Cancer researcher Sidney Mirvish died at age 86. His research into nitrosamines and carcinogenesis led to changes in the way lunch meats, hot dogs and sausages were made.
Mirvish served as professor emeritus in the Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases at the University of Nebraska Medical Center, where he was faculty member for 46 years. Mirvish died due to complications following emergency surgery on Aug. 18.
Ken Cowan, director of the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center, called him “an internationally recognized leader in nitrosamines and carcinogenesis who helped build the scientific reputation of UNMC and the Eppley Institute.”
“Sidney was a remarkable individual and scientist,” Cowan said. “His continued passion for science and the Eppley Institute was truly inspirational.”
Samuel Cohen, Havlik-Wall Professor of Oncology, Pathology and Microbiology, knew Mirvish for 45 years, first at Wisconsin, then at UNMC. “He was an outstanding scientist, known for his seminal research on carcinogenic N-nitrosamines,” Cohen said. “He was the first to show their formation from nitrites in food, and the inhibition of this formation by vitamin C.”
“Despite severe visual impairment, he was a highly productive scientist, with NCI support continuing into his 80s,” Cohen said. “He was not only a renowned scientist, but was an avid collector of South African art and artifacts, and was a generous, friendly, warm human being, friend and colleague. He will be greatly missed.”
Mirvish completed his doctorate degree in organic chemistry at Cambridge University in England and received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the University of Cape Town in South Africa. After working in South Africa at the University of Witwatersrand, he joined the Weizmann Institute in Israel where he developed his interest in carcinogenesis.
After working briefly at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research at the University of Wisconsin, he was recruited as an associate professor to the Eppley Institute in 1969. He was promoted to professor in 1977, served as interim director and associate director of the institute from 1981-1986, and received the Outstanding Research and Creativity Award from the University of Nebraska in 1986.
Mirvish authored 155 publications and his lab was funded by the NCI through 2013, as professor emeritus. He was still working on grant applications and research manuscripts and continued to come regularly to institute seminars and meetings.
UNMC Chancellor Emeritus Harold Maurer called Mirvish “a quiet, unassuming man,” despite his accomplishments as a scientist. “In the summer, you would see him walking to work in shorts and wearing a backpack,” Maurer said. “He exhibited the essence of diversity at UNMC. It gave UNMC character! I’ll miss him.”
Mirvish is survived by his wife, Lynda; two children, Leora Mirvish and Daniel Mirvish, his wife, Rachel, and their three children, Rebecca, Jonathan and Miriam. He also is survived by his sister, Doreen Bahiri.
“Dr. Mirvish was a gentle soul. His kindness, thoughtful compassion and dedication to research and teaching was at the highest level. As a teacher he taught by example and as friend he lived by example. He also cared more about others than himself and was always the first in the lecture hall, the conference room and the one asking the most provocative questions about science, truth and life. He was the next generation that has aged and perhaps moved on. I will miss his wisdom dearly. Most importantly I will miss him as a man who influenced our commitment to Nebraska, the medical center and to God.”
– Howard Gendelman, Margaret R. Larson Professor of Internal Medicine and Infectious Diseases; chair, UNMC Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience
“If you wanted to point to someone who loved his work, Sidney would have been a great choice. Even as an emeritus professor, he was working. In fact, he was on the list for a March 2016 NIH grant submission. We would all be blessed to have the enduring passion for our profession that Sidney had for his.”
– Robert Lewis, professor, Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases; program leader, Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center
“While I never worked directly with him, I had the pleasure of discussing science and various other lighter topics numerous times with Sidney. What a great person and what exemplary dedication to science. He will be missed.”
– Howard Fox, senior associate dean of research and development, UNMC College of Medicine; professor and executive vice chair, UNMC Department of Pharmacology and Experimental Neuroscience
“Sidney Mirvish was a scientist through and through. Long after he officially retired, he continued to discuss his ideas and write grants. He also continued to go to seminars. If the speaker skipped over some background information or used some unfamiliar jargon, Sidney was sure to ask for clarification. It would often take the speaker by surprise, but not most in the audience. We had seen it all many times over the years. Sometimes, Sidney’s questions were the most insightful ones asked because his questions would get to the heart of the issue. He will be missed.”
– Angie Rizzino, professor, Eppley Institute for Research in Cancer and Allied Diseases
“We think everybody on campus recognized Sidney. Because of vision challenges he would always sit in the front row at seminars and scrutinize your slides in great detail. It was rather intimidating, since you though he might be picking out all the errors. In fact he would skip the small stuff and ask important and insightful questions. He was especially helpful to the Lymphoma Research Group because he was so very knowledgeable as an advisor and collaborator on studies of exposure to agricultural chemicals implicated in causing cancers.”
– Graham Sharp, and Shantaram Joshi, professors, UNMC Department of Genetics, Cell Biology & Anatomy
“I did not know Sidney well and had little interaction with him. He did come to our departmental seminars for many years and the thing that impressed me about him was that he was not afraid to ask a question about any subject. This is a valuable characteristic and something we try (frequently unsuccessfully) to instill in our students. If you do not ask questions, you will not learn much.”
– Charlie Murrin, retired professor, pharmacology and experimental neuroscience