RSOM Distinguished Professor Ira S. Cohen Dies at 75

Ira S. Cohen, MD, PhD, and a distinguished professor in the Renaissance School of Medicine Department of Physiology and Biophysics, passed away suddenly at his home on June 15 at the age of 75.

Ira cohen

Dr. Cohen began his career at Stony Brook University 48 years ago, embarking on a path that led to seminal contributions to our understanding of pacemakers and ion channels in the heart. In 2016, Nature Biotechnology recognized him as one of the top 20 translational scientists in the world, and he was inducted into the National Academy of Inventors a year later. Dr. Cohen continuously embraced new technologies and employed them in creative ways to solve important biomedical questions.

Some of the many highlights of Dr. Cohen’s groundbreaking research include: pivotal contributions to our understanding of the major repolarizing current in the heart, IKs; identification of the KCNQ2 and KCNQ3 potassium channel subunits as molecular correlates of the M-Channel; pioneering the design of cell-based vectors that can be implanted in the heart to serve as biological pacemakers; mechanistic understanding of ion channel diseases, including drug-induced Long QT Syndrome; and using mesenchymal stem cells as a delivery system for siRNAs to demonstrate for the first time that small oligonucleotides could pass through gap junction channels.

“What set Ira apart from other basic scientists who have also made significant contributions to understanding cardiovascular disease was his remarkable ability to effectively translate mechanistic observations from basic studies to therapeutic applications,” said Thomas W. White, interim chair of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics. “In addition to being an exceptionally talented scientist, Ira was a wonderful human being who positively impacted the lives of all who knew him. He will be greatly missed, and our thoughts are with Ira’s family and loved ones during this difficult time.”

Dr. Cohen’s laboratory research focused on the physiology and pharmacology of isolated cardiac myocytes from various regions of the mammalian heart. A second area of investigation was the relation between the structure and function of ion channels.

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