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Elwood Jensen, award-winning medical researcher, dies at 92

By Amanda Lee Myers,

Elwood Jensen, an award-winning medical researcher whose work helped open the door to advances in fighting breast and other types of cancer, died Dec. 16. He was 92.

His death was announced by the University of Cincinnati, where he had worked for the past decade. He had pneumonia, according to an announcement by the University of Chicago, where Dr. Jensen spent much of his career.

Dr. Jensen was widely recognized for his discovery of hormone receptors while at the University of Chicago in the 1950s and 1960s. He focused on the impact breast tissue had on estrogen, while most other researchers studied how the hormone influenced tissue.

At the time, the standard treatment for breast cancer was to take out the ovaries or adrenal glands, but after creating a way to radioactively tag estrogen, Dr. Jensen learned that only a third of breast tumors carry estrogen receptors.

The discovery allows doctors today to identify which patients will respond to anti-estrogen therapy and which need chemotherapy or radiation. The ground-breaking finding has helped doctors treat breast, thyroid and prostate cancer.

Dr. Jensen won dozens of awards for his work, including a Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research in 2004, a prize that is considered America’s Nobel Prize.

Dr. Sohaib Khan, a professor of cancer biology at Cincinnati and a friend of Dr. Jensen’s, called Dr. Jensen’s work “monumental” and described the man as humble, funny and always ready to tell an old story from his boxing days in college or when he climbed the 14,690-foot Matterhorn in the Alps in 1947.

Elwood Vernon Jensen was born Jan. 13, 1920, in Fargo, N.D., and grew up in Springfield, Ohio. He received a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Wittenberg University in Springfield in 1940 and a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Chicago in 1944.

Most recently, Dr. Jensen was a professor at the University of Cincinnati’s department of cell biology, neurobiology and anatomy. He had been teaching at the university since 2002 after leaving the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden, where he was the Nobel visiting professor.

His first wife, the former Mary Collette, died in 1982 after more than 40 years of marriage. Survivors include his wife of 29 years, Hiltrud Herborg; and two children from his first marriage, Thomas Jensen and Karen Jensen.

—Associated Press and staff reports

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