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Dr. Hal E. Broxmeyer, whose scientific research was instrumental in pioneering the field of cord blood transplantation, saving tens of thousands of lives, died peacefully in his home on Wednesday. He was 77. The cause was complications from thyroid cancer.
Dr. Broxmeyer, Ph.D., was Distinguished Professor, Mary Margaret Walther Professor Emeritus, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, and Senior Advisor to the Director of the National Cancer Institute-Designated Indiana University Simon Comprehensive Cancer Center at the IU School of Medicine in Indianapolis.
Throughout a long and productive career, Dr. Broxmeyer received distinctions of the highest order. Among them were the Karl Landsteiner Award of the American Society of Blood Banks (2002), the E. Donnall Thomas Prize of the American Society of Hematology (2007), the Donald Metcalf Award of the International Society of Hematology and Stem Cell Research (2011), the President’s Medal of Honor from Indiana University (2019), the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cord Blood Association (2019), and the Gold Medal of the City of Paris (1993). He also held leadership positions in professional associations, such as President of the American Society of Hematology (2010), and President of the International Society for Experimental Hematology and Stem Cell Research (1991). His significant research achievements are reflected by his record of over 838 peer-reviewed published scientific papers, which have been cited over 72,552 times. But most of all, what he brought to science was a passion for research, a love of discovery, and a desire to advance human knowledge through commitment, collaboration, and creativity. He worked every day he could until the very end.
One of his proudest achievements was the work that made possible the first cord blood transplantation, which took place in Paris on October 6, 1988. His lab did the basic scientific proof-of-concept research in advance of the transplantation. He had the cryopreserved cord blood flown to Paris for the transplantation, buying a separate seat on the Pan Am flight for the “Big Boy” dry shipper cryopreservation tank that contained the cord blood. The foundational publication on the viability of cord blood transplantation followed in 1989. He also started the first cord blood bank at Indiana University. Since then, there have been an estimated 40,000 cord blood transplantations performed. Saving cord blood for future use is now a standard option presented to parents with newborns. He was especially touched in 2019 when he received a “Thank you Hal” book with messages from many of the people whose lives were saved by cord blood transplantation. The application of pure science to better our daily lives was his foremost pursuit during his almost fifty-year scientific career, all of which was continuously funded by grants, including from the National Institutes of Health.
Dr. Broxmeyer was born on November 27, 1944 in Brooklyn, New York. He grew up playing stickball, going to Brooklyn Dodgers games, and watching double-feature cowboy movies on the weekends. He went to Lincoln High School and Brooklyn College, where he focused on track and field, first running and later the javelin and shot put. But he found his true athletic pursuit in weightlifting, especially the Olympic lifts.
After graduating from Brooklyn College in 1966, he received his M.S. from Long Island University in 1968 and his Ph.D. from New York University in 1973. He completed his post-doctoral fellowship at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario in 1975 before working at Sloan-Kettering Institute in New York from 1976 to 1983. He then came to IU Medical Center for the remainder of his career, which included serving as Scientific Director at the Walther Oncology Center from 1988 to 2009.
Dr. Broxmeyer strongly believed that the collaborative pursuit of scientific principles and experiments made the world a better place for everyone. Over the course of his career, he traveled throughout the country and internationally to participate in scientific conferences, review scientific publications, and collaborate with colleagues all over the globe. Dr. Broxmeyer took particular pride in his lab’s published work on the enhanced growth of hematopoetic stem and progenitor cells in hypoxic (low oxygen) environments.
His other devotion, aside from science and family, was to competitive weightlifting. He competed for years in Master’s Weightlifting competitions, winning the Master’s National Championship in 1990 and 1994 in his age and weight division. He also competed in the Master’s World Championship in 1993. Even after he stopped competitive weightlifting, he enjoyed taking a break from his scientific pursuits to work out in his basement with his full Eleiko weightlifting set. He also kept his javelins and shot puts from college in the garage in case he ever decided to relive his glory days from Brooklyn College track and field, which happened more often than you might think.
Hal is survived and mourned by his beloved wife of fifty-two years, Beth Broxmeyer (formerly Biller); his sons, Eric Jay Broxmeyer (and his wife, Annie Owens) and Jeff Daniel Broxmeyer (and his wife, Shira Roza); his sister, Claire Goldstein and her family; his grandchildren, Naomi Francis Roza-Broxmeyer and Issac Louis Roza-Broxmeyer; and many other wonderful relatives in his extended family. He loved spending time with his family and took much joy in their lives, especially his grandchildren. He often gave his grandchildren Naomi and Isaac presents that let them explore the world of science and technology. He never forgot that he came from Brooklyn. He never cheered for another Major League Baseball team after the Dodgers left Brooklyn in 1957, and he never lost his Brooklyn accent, even after living in Indiana for almost forty years—and somehow even after his voice box had to be removed as part of his cancer treatment.
Thank you to those who keep Dr. Broxmeyer in their thoughts and prayers. Please do not send flowers. Donations can be made in his honor to The Leukemia Society of America, the American Society for Hematology, IU Medical Center, or the Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation.