John Trojanowski, pathology and laboratory medicine

John Trojanowski, pathology and laboratory medicine

John Q. Trojanowski, William Maul Measey-Truman G. Schnabel, Jr. Professor of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the Perelman School of Medicine, died Feb. 8. He was 75 years old.

Dr. Trojanowski was born in Bridgeport, CT, and was one of seven children. His father was a captain in the United States Air Force and Dr. Trojanowski grew up attending military schools as his family moved frequently to various Air Force bases in the United States and overseas. After graduating from high school, he majored in German at Kings College before receiving his medical and doctoral degrees at Tufts University School of Medicine. He completed his university training in Rotterdam, then returned to the United States for his neuropathology residency at Massachusetts General and Harvard Medical School. He met his wife, Virginia Man-Yee Lee, in Massachusetts and they moved to Pennsylvania after Dr. Lee was offered a job at a Philadelphia pharmaceutical company in 1979. Dr. Trojanowski joined the faculty at Penn in 1981.

Dr. Trojanowski shared his scientific and personal life with Dr. Lee, who became the John H. Ware 3rd Endowed Professor in Alzheimer’s Research in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at Penn, also in 1981. Their findings identifying different forms tau protein has opened new avenues of research in neurodegenerative diseases. Little was known about Alzheimer’s disease in the 1980s, and homeroom teachers advised Drs. Trojanowski and Lee to avoid the topic, considered a career killer. They and their colleagues at Penn then made a series of groundbreaking discoveries showing that cell-to-cell aggregation and spread of specific pathological proteins is a common mechanism underlying Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders.

Over the decades, Drs. Trojanowski and Lee’s evolving research program kept Penn at the forefront of the field. The focus on the patient in their extensive basic and clinical work has identified many targets for potential therapies and drug treatments. Their lab also won some of the first federal grants to open an Alzheimer’s disease research center, and there they began recruiting and training the next generations of scientists. Dr. Trojanowski helped establish and expand a strong aging research network at Penn. In 1991, he became co-director with Dr. Lee of the Neurodegenerative Disease Research Center. Eleven years later, Dr. Trojanowski was appointed director of the Penn Institute on Aging, which he helped transform into a model center, catalyzing a wide range of groundbreaking work on aging and age-related diseases across the from the Penn campus.

Beyond his far-reaching impact at Penn, Dr. Trojanowski has also worked nationally and internationally, promoting and advancing research on aging, particularly as it relates to neurodegenerative diseases. In 1991 he became director of the National Institute on Aging (NIA) Alzheimer’s Disease Center Core, and elsewhere in the NIA he was active on the Board of Scientific Counselors, the National Advisory Council on Aging, and Neuroscience, Behavior and Sociology. Aging Review Committee. Among many other national leadership positions, he served as president of the American Association of Neuropathologists. Dr. Trojanowski led the Alzheimer’s Disease Neuroimaging Initiative’s Biomarker Core, a longitudinal study that changed the way patients are diagnosed. His pioneering research and transformative leadership helped establish Penn as a leading center for research into neurodegenerative diseases of aging and helped make Penn one of the nation’s top institutions receiving NIA funding. Programs he helped establish at Penn include the Marian S. Ware Alzheimer’s Program, the Penn Alzheimer’s Disease Center, the Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence for Parkinson’s Disease Research, and the NIA Penn U19 Center on Alpha-Synuclein Strains in Alzheimer’s Disease and Related Dementias.

During his illustrious career, Dr. Trojanowski has earned the respect of his peers across the country and around the world. Colleagues remember Dr. Trojanowski as a passionate scientist who was also extremely modest about his accomplishments, noting the collaborative nature of his work and the teamwork that went with it. He has received numerous awards and honors for his work, including his election to the National Academy of Medicine in 2002 and the 2018 Alzheimer’s Association Lifetime Achievement Award. Until almost the end of his life, he was still writing grants and papers, and overseeing tens of millions of dollars of research to better understand the many disease proteins he and his wife had identified or studied during their 45 years together. To read many fond memories of Dr. Trojanowski from friends and peers, visit

He is survived by his wife, Dr. Lee; and five siblings. Dr. Lee and his other colleagues are planning a memorial symposium on neurodegeneration in the fall.

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