David M. Kipnis, MD, Distinguished University Professor Emeritus of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died at his home Wednesday, Feb. 5, 2014, after a long illness. He was 86.
A deeply respected, longtime leader at the School of Medicine, he came to the university in 1955 as a research fellow in the laboratory of Nobel laureates Carl F. Cori, MD, and Gerty T. Cori, MD.
He directed the university’s Clinical Research Center from 1960-87, became a full professor of medicine in 1965, and in 1973, he was named the Adolphus Busch Professor and head of the Department of Medicine, a position he held until 1992.
Among his many accomplishments as head of medicine, Kipnis oversaw construction of the School of Medicine’s Clinical Sciences Research Building, which opened in 1981, and added about 75,000 square feet of laboratory space for researchers in the Department of Medicine.
Kipnis was also a professor of molecular biology and pharmacology. His involvement in basic and clinical research helped establish critical links between fundamental research and innovative patient care. The research and training collaborations he established between the Department of Medicine and the school’s basic-science departments became models for clinical departments at medical schools nationwide.
During his tenure, the number of full-time faculty in the Department of Medicine increased from 46 to 160, the operating budget rose from $4.5 million to $110 million, and the department’s research funding made up one-quarter of the university’s total research budget.
Kipnis also was the driving force behind the Washington University and Monsanto biomedical research agreement — an extensive and significant corporate/university collaboration that was one of the first partnerships of its kind in the United States. The agreement provided more than $100 million in research support to university scientists.
He dedicated his research and clinical practice to diabetes and endocrinology, focusing on insulin's action. He helped delineate the mechanisms of sugar and amino acid transport, the regulation of insulin release within the pancreas and the molecular mechanisms underlying the metabolic effects of various hormones.
Kipnis worked with the late Paul E. Lacy, MD, PhD, and William H. Daughaday, MD, to establish a diabetes and endocrinology research center at Washington University in 1974, an effort that led to the formation of the university’s Diabetes Research and Training Center in 1977. More than three decades later, the center remains an integral part of a national research effort to prevent diabetes and treat its complications.
“Dr. Kipnis was a force of nature,” said Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor and head of the Department of Internal Medicine. “He spoke very softly, but every word was critically important to hear. He was a brilliant man whose passion for science, medicine and people allowed him to recruit outstanding faculty, identify and mentor young people into successful academic careers and build partnerships across disciplines.
"He devoted his career to creating an academic environment of the highest caliber, where great minds from diverse backgrounds could flourish. He transformed the Department of Medicine here into one of the very best programs in the country, and he developed several generations of outstanding physician-scientists who have gone on to lead divisions, departments and medical schools across the country.”
Kipnis was born in Baltimore in 1927. The son of Eastern European immigrants, he worked in his family’s neighborhood store from the time he was 10 years old until he was 18. During those years, he became interested in medicine, as well. On Sundays, he accompanied the family pediatrician, Dr. Harry Goldberg, on house calls and carried his bag.
He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Johns Hopkins and, in 1950, a medical degree from the University of Maryland. He completed an internship at Johns Hopkins, a residency at Duke and served as chief resident at the University of Maryland before coming to Washington University as an American College of Physicians research fellow.
Among the honors and awards he received are the George M. Kober Medal from the Association of American Physicians, the Ernst Oppenheimer Award from the Endocrine Society, the Banting Medal for Scientific Achievement from the American Diabetes Association and the Second Century Award at Washington University.
He was elected to the Institute of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1974, to the National Academy of Sciences in 1981 and was selected as a Master of the American College of Physicians in 1993. He received an honorary doctor of science degree from the University of Maryland in 1981, was elected to the Johns Hopkins Society of Scholars in 1982 and received an honorary degree from Washington University in 2004.
He was preceded in death by his wife, Paula L. Kipnis, who died in 2012. They met and married while he was a medical resident and she was an undergraduate at Duke. He is survived by three children: Lynne Kipnis, PhD (Steve Rothman, MD), Laura Kipnis (Sidney Goldstein) and Robert (Nancy) Kipnis, MD; eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
Visitation will be held at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, followed by a memorial service at 3 p.m., at the Ethical Society of St. Louis, 9001 Clayton Road, in Ladue. A reception will follow from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Whitehall building, 710 S. Hanley Road, in Clayton.
Memorial contributions may be made to the Department of Medicine at Washington University School of Medicine, Attn: Helen Z. Liu, 7425 Forsyth Blvd., Ste. 2100, St. Louis, MO 63105, or to the Scholarship Foundation of St. Louis, 8215 Clayton Road, St. Louis, MO 63117.