Paul Hyman Silverman, 79, a pioneer in genome and stem cell research who established the nation's first human genome center, died July 15 of complications following bone marrow replacement at the University of California, Irvine Medical Center.
Dr. Silverman's career spanned five decades, ranging from research into malaria vaccine to the Human Genome Project. He established the nation's first human genome center in 1987 at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory with Department of Energy funds. He also established the first immunoparasitology center at Glaxo Ltd. in London.
Colleagues described him as a Renaissance man who always placed himself at the cutting edge of scientific issues.
His work continued through the last few months. While in the hospital, he published an article in the May issue of The Scientist magazine that urged fellow scientists to rethink genetic determinism, asking in the article's subtitle, "With only 30,000 genes, what is it that makes humans human?"
"He was a firm believer that the public could make wise choices if advances in science and technology were explained in understandable language, and he practiced what he preached," said a colleague, Ron Miller, director emeritus of UC Irvine's program in medical ethics.
Dr. Silverman was also an advocate of research into embryonic stem cells, which he believed held the promise of therapies for many untreatable conditions. He was a critic of governmental limitation of such research.
His interest in the topic predated his illness, but it became useful to him. At his request, one of his sisters donated stem cells to replace Dr. Silverman's own bone marrow cells. The transplant appeared successful, but complications arose and led to a fatal heart attack, said his wife, Nancy Josephs Silverman.
"The whole time he was in the hospital, he was writing," she said. Dr. Silverman was collaborating on a new study when he was to be transferred into the intensive care unit of the hospital. "He made them wait 15 minutes because he had something to finish."
Dr. Silverman was a member of the advisory committee for the Human Genome Project and of the international Human Genome Organization. He was one of only 500 members of the World Academy of Art and Science, a U.N.-supported group of experts, to advise on global concerns of technology developments. He was a board member of the Hastings Center, a national forum to address ethical issues in health care, the life sciences, and the environment. He was director of the Western Center of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
However, when Dr. Silverman spoke to the graduating class of Roosevelt University in December 2003, when he was awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters, he spoke not of scientific debates but of civil rights, social justice, and personal responsibility in a democracy.
A native of Minneapolis, he contracted polio at 18 months of age. He recovered, and served in the Army in the United States during World War II. He attended the University of Minnesota, received a bachelor's degree from Roosevelt University and a master's degree from Northwestern University in parasitology and ecology in 1950.
He was turned down for admission by several medical schools, his wife said, and learned years later that it was because he was a member of the Progressive Party and, as one of the few in his crowd with a vehicle, had given the controversial actor Paul Robeson a ride to an event.
Dr. Silverman then moved to Israel to research tropical diseases. After several years, he went to the University of Liverpool in England, where he received two doctorates in parasitology. He was working for Glaxo in England when he was called to the American consulate and told that his passport had been suspended, and he would not be allowed to travel unless he named his "radical" friends from Chicago.
"We decided we would just take our chances with the British," Mrs. Silverman said.
By 1968, with his travel privileges restored, he returned to the United States and began working at the universities of Illinois and New Mexico, and traveling to Brazil as he worked on a malaria vaccine. The vaccine eventually tested successfully.
Dr. Silverman became the provost for research and graduate studies at the State University of New York. He was president of the University of Maine from 1980 to 1984, and then moved to UC Berkeley, where he held a number of positions until he became director of the Biotechnology Research and Education Program for all the University of California campuses. He worked in industry as the director of scientific affairs of the Beckman Scientific Corp. of Fullerton, Md., from 1990 to 1993 and as a member of the board of Spectrum Pharmaceuticals, Inc. in Irvine. In 1994, he became associate vice chancellor for the health sciences at UC Irvine.
Survivors include his wife of 59 years, of Irvine; two children, Daniel J. Silverman of Duarte, Calif. and Claire S. Clark of Irvine; three sisters; a brother; nine grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.