Laurence H. Kedes, MD, former W.M. Keck Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, chair of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and inaugural director of the Institute for Genetic Medicine (IGM) at the Keck School, died Jan. 6, 2021.
Kedes attended Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, then transferred after three years to Stanford University School of Medicine to complete his B.S. and M.D. degrees. His first two years of internal medicine training were at the University of Pittsburgh. He did his postdoctoral research at the National Cancer Institute and MIT before completing his final year of residency at Harvard’s Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.
After 20 years at Stanford as full professor, Kedes came to USC in 1989. He was drawn by USC’s bold vision for a world-class institute for genetic medicine and the Chair of Biochemistry position. Kedes was awarded an NIH grant to pay for much of the costs to renovate the IGM building. USC nurtured Kedes’s innovations and his life-long dream for a “co-laboratory” (state-of-the-art lab without barriers, with public meeting areas, and more wall space for art than MOCA) was fulfilled.
In 2002, Kedes stepped down as Chair of the Biochemistry Department. In 2004, he received the USC Distinguished Faculty Service Award. His honors also included: Fellow of the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation; Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator; Distinguished Scientist Award of the American Heart Association; Provost’s Gold Medal (University of Messina, Italy) and Israel’s Henry Neufield Memorial Award. In 2009, Kedes retired from USC, becoming Cedars Sinai’s interim director of the Medical Genetics Institute and obtained a UCLA faculty appointment.
As IGM’s director, Kedes recruited more than 20 faculty members. Kedes led the Institute’s multi-investigator research programs in heart disease, hypertension, gene therapy and craniofacial disorders.
“Fostering collaborations was one of Larry’s main principles,” said Baruch Frenkel, professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine. “He pioneered the shared-collaborative research space design and encouraged collaborative work and interdepartmental projects.”
Kedes also made substantial contributions to USC’s graduate education. According to Michael Stallcup, former chair of the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, “Larry led the department in making the decision to throw all of the Biochemistry Department’s graduate stipend resources behind PIBBS. … Without that, PIBBS likely would not have succeeded.”
Pragna Patel, professor of biochemistry and molecular medicine said: “Larry used a no-holds-barred approach to wooing recruits to match the vision for his institute. His hospitality and panache in the process were unmatched. He established the tradition of an annual symposium inviting leaders in an emerging field of research that matched the institute’s theme.”
Coralie Poizat, a former Kedes lab fellow, added: “He challenged all of us in the ‘Kedes lab’ while remaining professional, supportive, and likable. His rare ability to get to the heart of things and summarize issues, with no superfluous language, supported us all in advancing our work.”
Kedes was an internationally renowned investigator in molecular genetics, molecular biology, and regulation of gene expression in skeletal and cardiac muscle. He was the first to isolate a protein coding gene from an animal cell. He made discoveries in regulation of gene expression by histone proteins and programs of myocyte differentiation and trans-differentiation. He was involved in early studies in cardiac gene therapy, and was a developer of the first federally funded digital database for storing and analyzing DNA sequences, laying the foundation for NIH databases, including GenBank, at the NCBI.
A member of numerous scientific organizations, recently as the Scientific Director of the X-PRIZE Foundation, Kedes was identified as one of the world’s most cited molecular biologists by the Institute for Scientific Information. He trained more than 70 fellows who have held or now hold professorial appointments at institutions worldwide.
Henry Sucov, former professor of stem cell biology and regenerative medicine, said: “This obituary would be incomplete if it didn’t mention Larry’s taste for fine Italian wine and his enthusiasm for model trains!”
Kedes will be missed by his colleagues and by his wife of 62 years, Shirley, his sons Dean and Todd, his daughter Maureen, and his four grandchildren.