CINCINNATI—Elwood Jensen, PhD, a distinguished university professor in the department of cancer biology and winner of the 2004 Lasker Award, passed away on the evening of Sunday, Dec. 16, 2012. He was 92.
Internationally known as the "Father of the Nuclear Receptor Field,” Jensen was one of three researchers sharing the 2004 Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, making him only the second UC faculty member to be honored with an "American Nobel” following Albert Sabin, MD, in 1956.
Since receiving his Lasker Award, Jensen’s name was frequently mentioned each Fall as a possible recipient for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Jensen was revered worldwide for his discovery of hormone receptors which brought about a revolution in molecular science and transformed the treatment for breast cancer patients. Some have estimated that his work annually saves or prolongs the lives of more than 100,000 women.
Jensen was born in Fargo, ND, but grew up in nearby Springfield, Ohio, where he graduated from Wittenberg College. He later received his doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago. In 1946 he spent a year as a Guggenheim Fellow at the Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich, where he first took an interest in the study of steroid hormones. It was during this period that he climbed the Matterhorn, a 14,691-foot peak in the Alps, a feat that became a metaphor in his personal and professional life for his determination to conquer the seemingly impossible.
In 1947 Jensen joined the faculty at the University of Chicago, where he carried out his breakthrough work in nuclear receptors. In 1951 he became one of the original members of the famed Ben May Laboratory for Cancer Research. He was appointed director of the lab in 1969, finally retiring from the University of Chicago in 1990.
Jensen came to the University of Cincinnati in 2002 holding the George J. and Elizabeth Wile Chair in Cancer Research. He was able to continue his research until late last year.
Prior to his arrival in Cincinnati, he served as worldwide research director of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research in Zurich, was a Fogarty Scholar at the National Institutes of Health, scholar-in-residence at Cornell Medical College, Alexander von Humboldt Visiting Professor at the University of Hamburg and Nobel Visiting Professor at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.
Besides being a member of the National Academy of Sciences, Jensen holds four honorary degrees. His additional scientific prizes include the 2002 Brinker International Award from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, which he received while on the faculty at UC.
In December 2003, more than 300 top cancer researchers and hormone scientists came to Cincinnati to honor him at the Jensen Symposium on Nuclear Receptors and Endocrine Disorders. The meeting, sponsored by the UC Academic Health Center, was one of the largest gatherings of the world's leading scientists in the field to discuss how hormones influence heart disease and cancers of the breast, prostate and thyroid.