Jeffrey M. Isner, MD
“We do not imitate—for we are a model to others.”
— Pericles to the Athenians
Dr Jeffrey Michael Isner, a beacon in the world of cardiovascular research, died suddenly and unexpectedly on October 31, 2001. Family and friends feel a deep and personal loss, but medicine and science have suffered by Jeff’s premature death.
Jeff’s accomplishments were astonishing, both academically and personally.
He was the author of over 400 peer-reviewed manuscripts, held 4 NIH grants including a recent Program Project Grant and NIH merit award, and was a prior recipient of the William Beaumont Award, given annually by the AMA to the single most influential clinical scientist under the age of 50.
Most recently, Jeff had focused his energy on the concept of gene therapy for therapeutic angiogenesis. Jeff was constantly pushing the envelope, challenging the status quo. In 1994, when Jeff performed the first human arterial gene transfer for cardiovascular disease, many feared that these efforts were premature, despite solid preclinical studies. This year the index section of the abstracts from the Scientific Sessions of the American Heart Association contained 3 pages listing abstracts on Angiogenesis and 2 pages listing abstracts regarding Gene Therapy, suggesting that the initial cries of “premature” actually meant “prescient.”
Despite Jeff’s amazing academic track record, he also, somehow, managed to be the consummate family man. He rarely missed dinner with his wife and 3 children, always choosing to spend time with them whenever he could. Those who had the opportunity to hear Jeff speak at one of his invited international talks might also have had the chance to meet his mother, who accompanied him on some of these trips, and could be found sitting front and center, the proud smile never leaving her face.
On reviewing Jeff’s astonishing accomplishments, one must ask how a single individual could possibly have performed these feats. We believe that Jeff truly lived by the dictum of President Kennedy, which we paraphrase from his “shining city on the hill” speech…
First, Jeff was truly a man of courage—with the courage to stand up to one’s critics—and the courage to stand up, when necessary, to one’s colleagues—the courage to resist complacency and convention.
Second, he was truly a man of judgment—with perceptive judgment of the future as well as the past—of his own mistakes as well as the mistakes of others—with enough wisdom to know what he did not know and enough candor to admit it.
Third, he was truly a man of integrity—a man who never ran out on either the principles in which he believed or the people who believed in them—men and women who believed in him—for whom neither personal gain nor ambition could ever divert from the fulfillment of our sacred trust—healing the ill.
Finally, he was truly a man of dedication—with an honor mortgaged to no single individual or group, and compromised by no private obligation or aim, but devoted solely to serving the public good.
Courage—judgment—integrity—dedication—these are the historic qualities of the Bay Colony and the Bay State of which President Kennedy spoke and which were embodied in Jeff Isner.
Jeff dared to brave the skepticism of his colleagues and shine the light of his intellect into the uncharted territories of clinical science. The ripples of these courageous acts continue to spread far and wide.
Jeff Isner was also committed to education and to helping others succeed in their own research work. He always had the time to provide advice when solicited and encouragement for others. He cared deeply for colleagues, students, patients, and for developing angiogenesis as an important clinical treatment for patients in desperate need and beyond help from contemporary revascularization methods.
Jeff⇓ may be gone; but the memory of his visionary work, of his wise counsels and tireless efforts, of his calm and steady faith in his colleagues lives, is precious, and will be a force of good in science and medicine for a very long time. Jeff may be gone; but the cause he so passionately, ardently, and faithfully propelled forward—not for himself, but for his patients—that cause survives his passing, it will continue to survive, and it will ultimately provide new therapies for helping patients with very extensive vascular disease.