Dr. Joseph Larner, a distinguished diabetes researcher who chaired the University of Virginia School of Medicine’s pharmacology department from 1969 until 1990 and recruited two future Nobel Prize winners, died on Jan. 28 in Charlottesville. He was 93.
Born in Poland, Larner was a 9-month-old baby when his parents arrived in the U.S. through Ellis Island. He went on to receive a B.A. at the University of Michigan, his medical degree from Columbia Medical School, and two other degrees before coming to the U.Va. Health System in 1969.
His passion was science, in particular biochemistry and pharmacology. He devoted most of his scientific career to understanding the mechanisms of insulin activity with the objective of developing better treatments for diabetes.
Larner led a distinguished career, garnering numerous scientific awards, including the 1987 Banting Medal for Scientific Achievement in Diabetes Research, the highest research honor given by the American Diabetes Association, and the Virginia Lifetime Achievement Award in Science. He was also a member of the Institute of Medicine.
He remained as a professor emeritus and worked full time in his laboratory until a month before he died.
During his tenure he led pharmacology to great prominence, employing a group of talented young scientists who achieved international renown. Two of his recruits later won Nobel Prizes, Alfred Gilman in 1994 and Ferid Murad in 1998, as a result of their work at U.Va. In 2011, Gilman and Murad led a symposium in Charlottesville to honor Larner’s 90th birthday.
He is survived by his wife, Frances, three sons, their spouses and eight grandchildren. His son, Dr. James Larner, chairs the Department of Radiation-Oncology.
Larner and his wife established the Joseph and Frances Larner Professorship and the Joseph and Frances Larner Graduate Fellowship in Pharmacology.
A commemoration of his life will be held on March 23 at the University Chapel.