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OU-HCOM mourns death of preeminent scientist
Leonard D. Kohn, M.D., help lead diabetes research efforts

(ATHENS, Ohio – April 26, 2012) Leonard D. Kohn, M.D., emeritus senior research scientist at the Ohio University Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-HCOM), died Wednesday, April 18.

“Dr. Kohn was one of the most intelligent and innovative men that I've ever known,” said Dean Jack Brose, D.O., executive dean for health affairs at Ohio University and dean of OU-HCOM. “The discoveries he made will someday result in medications that will save millions of lives. Personally, I will miss a good friend who was an inspiration and mentor to me.”

At OU-HCOM, Dr. Kohn began work on the development of a new compound, called C-10, that shows promise in fighting pancreatic cancer and diabetes, among other diseases. Since his retirement in 2008, other OU-HCOM researchers have continued work on C-10. Preliminary lab studies show that the drug can slow the growth of cancer cells and effectively treat various autoimmune-inflammatory diseases. 

In 2003, Dr. Kohn became the first J.O. Watson Chair for Diabetes Research, which was created with a gift from the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations and which laid the ground work for the college’s continued and expanded focus on diabetes research and treatment 

“The Diabetes Center really started to form around him and his work,” said Dr. Brose. “ He brought a whole new level of sophistication to our research. He was a world class researcher who helped us realize that we could become a world class research institution.”

Upon retiring from the National Institutes of Health, National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive, and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK) after 36 years, Dr. Kohn joined the Edison Biotechnology Institute and OU-HCOM in 2000.

At the same time, Kohn co-founded the Interthyr Corporation as part of an Ohio Technology Action Fund award from the former Ohio Department of Development to commercialize better diagnostic assays for autoimmune thyroid disease and similar ailments such as diabetes that he worked on at the NIH. The company was housed at the Ohio University Innovation Center for the past few years.  

Frank Schwartz, M.D., professor of endocrinology, current J.O. Watson Chair of Diabetes Research and director of the Diabetes Institute at Ohio University (formerly the AHRI/Diabetes and Endocrine Center), said Dr. Kohn mentored countless scientists from around the world, and that he often was treated as a “rock star” at international endocrine or thyroid meetings.

Dr. Kohn was one of the most intelligent and insightful physician/scientist that I ever had the opportunity to work with,” Dr. Schwartz said.  “He had a wonderful way of explaining complex scientific problems, capturing the attention of young students, scientists, & physicians, getting them excited about the joys of scientific discovery, and making them feel that they were not only indispensable in his efforts to uncover the unknown...and at the same time make them feel that they knew more and contributed more to the process than he did!”

Dr. Schwartz said that on a personal level, Dr. Kohn was like a father to not only himself but his family as well. “Two of my sons are now scientists in part due to his wonderful way of capturing their imagination and again fostering in their minds that they were special and had to be involved in the process of discovery.”

Richard Vincent, president and CEO of the Osteopathic Heritage Foundations, said he considers having the opportunity to having known Dr. Kohn as a privilege. “He possessed such a rare set of skills – intelligence, organization, vision, scientific knowledge, demonstrable passion for the human condition, persuasion – just to name a few. With all his accomplishments, he remained humble and had the ability to make others feel as if we were an important part of his work. We will miss him, but are fortunate to have had him in our lives."

Dr. Kohn was a graduate of Columbia College and the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons. He completed an internship-residency at New York Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, and in 1964 he became a research associate at the NIH. He then worked at the NIDDK for 36 years, where he achieved medical director (captain) rank and was awarded both Meritorious Service and Commendation Medals. By 1975, he had become a section chief in the first of two research laboratories, and finished his tenure NIH as a section chief in a clinical branch, the Metabolic Diseases Branch.

He received numerous professional awards in recognition of research carried out under his direction at the NIH, including the Sidney H. Ingbar Distinguished Lectureship award from the American Thyroid Association and an honorary degree of medicine from the University of Chieti, Chieti, Italy, for his work on autoimmune diseases. He was a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Biological Chemistry, Journal of Endocrinology, and the Journal of Thyroid Research.  He published more than 415 publications, and he had 9 issued patents and more than 20 pending patent applications.

A memorial service will be announced and held at a later date.


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