Piotr Kulesza, a pathologist at Northwestern University Robert H. Lurie Cancer Center, who worked with the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group, died after a fall from a hotel balcony after attending the cooperative group’s semi-annual meeting. Kulesza was 46.
Police records, including 911 calls, indicate that the fall occurred shortly before 12:29 a.m., Nov. 17, when Kulesza dropped through the glass roof and into the lobby of the Westin Diplomat Resort in Hollywood, Fla., where ECOG-ACRIN had completed its meeting earlier that day.
A police report states that Kulesza had fallen from the 23rd floor balcony.
“Initial investigation does not reveal any suspected foul play,” Hollywood police said in a statement. “Detectives are actively investigating this case as to whether it was an accident or intentional.”
People who worked closely with Kulesza at Northwestern and ECOG-ACRIN described him as a top-level researcher who was energized by his work.
Colleagues who saw Kulesza at the meeting described him as upbeat, engaged and excited about his work with the ECOG-ACRIN project.
Kulesza was born in Warsaw. After coming to the U.S., he received his undergraduate degree at the University of Alabama, and his combined M.D./Ph.D degrees at Washington University in St. Louis.
He was a resident in anatomic and clinical pathology at Johns Hopkins University, where he stayed on for a fellowship in cytopathology. He joined the pathology faculty at Johns Hopkins in 2004 and was recruited back to the University of Alabama in 2006 before moving to Northwestern in 2009.
“Peter was a remarkable colleague, who will be remembered for his infectious enthusiasm and energy,” William Muller, the Magerstadt Professor and chairman of the Department of Pathology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, said in an email to the faculty and staff.
“He was dedicated to our academic mission, and this was evident in his interactions with colleagues, residents, fellows, and medical students. He was an ambitious researcher, who was a principal investigator on R01 grants as well as clinical trials,” Muller said. “His unique contribution to FSM was as the director of the pathology core facility of the Robert H. Lurie Cancer Center and director of the Eastern Cooperative Oncology Group Pathology Coordinating Office and Reference Laboratory at Northwestern.”
Information provided by ECOG-ACRIN said that Kulesza, who was appointed to the directorship of the coordinating office and reference laboratory in 2009, modernized ECOG-ACRIN’s pathology informatics systems and enhanced the role of that office in the development of group science by recruiting a staff of young, energetic pathologists and scientists to support the group, and by providing early-stage input to investigators on clinical trial concepts.
Kulesza implemented digital pathology in ECOG-ACRIN and oversaw pathology efforts for a number of landmark studies, such as tissue staining and evaluation for PACCT-1/TAILORx, the ECOG-led study that accrued over 10,000 women across the cooperative groups, who were prospectively tested using Oncotype DX to determine their recurrence score. The trial was designed to define the optimal therapeutic approach in women with intermediate-risk scores.
Kulesza represented ECOG-ACRIN as an ad hoc member of the NCI Group Banking Committee Steering Committee, where he was a champion of quality assurance measures to ensure high-quality science from the samples he was charged with banking.
“Piotr was an esteemed member of the scientific team of ECOG-ACRIN,” said group co-chair Robert Comis. “His boundless energy helped us reshape our approach to the role of the Pathology Coordinating Office and Reference Laboratory in the science of our group. He was leading and heralding our efforts in molecular and digital pathology, and was essential to our committees in designing molecularly-based clinical trials.
“Most importantly, he was a wonderful guy, full of energy and commitment to the field and to his colleagues. We all miss him terribly.”
He is survived by wife, Agnieszka Ardelt, assistant professor of neurology and surgery and director of the Neurocritical Care Research Laboratory at the University of Chicago Department of Neurology.