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Giant in Cytology, Dr. Leopold Koss, Passes Away

Thursday, September 13, 2012

A founding father of cytology and a leader in several prominent medical societies, Leopold G. Koss, MD, FASCP, passed away on Sept. 11, in New York. He was 92 and worked until the end of his life at Montefiore Medical Center and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, N.Y.

A native of Poland, Dr. Koss received his primary education there. His medical education was disrupted prior to and during World War II because he was Jewish. Dr. Koss persevered despite difficult circumstances and received his medical degree from the University of Bern, in Bern, Switzerland, in 1946.

"Dr. Koss was always outspoken and challenged his audience to think differently about diagnostic conundrums. Although he was always very interested in science and cytopathology, Dr. Koss also highly valued arts and culture." 
—ASC President Lydia Pleotis Howell, MD, FASCP

“Dr. Koss was a distinguished member of the American Society of Cytopathology [ASC] and a leader in the profession, whom I first met through my mentor, Dr. Irena Koprowska,” said ASC President Lydia Pleotis Howell, MD, FASCP, Professor and Chair of the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of California, Davis Health System, Sacramento, Calif. “He wrote the textbook in cytopathology that trained everyone in my generation. Dr. Koss was always outspoken and challenged his audience to think differently about diagnostic conundrums. Although he was always very interested in science and cytopathology, Dr. Koss also highly valued arts and culture.

“Additionally, Dr. Koss was very generous and gave the ASC funds to start the Leopold Koss Lectureship, a founding gift within the ASC Legacy Fund, This lecture is presented annually, and alternates between a distinguished scientist or a prominent individual dedicated to the humanities in medicine, reflecting Dr. Koss’ broad interests. He has left a lovely and meaningful legacy for all of us to remember him.”

Dr. Koss’s interest in microscopy and pathology stems from his involvement in experimental embryology during student days in Bern, Switzerland. He arrived in the United States in 1947 and trained in pathology at the Kings County Hospital in Brooklyn under the renowned renal pathologist and Chairman of the Department of Pathology, Jean Oliver, MD, who encouraged him to pursue an academic career.

In 1952, Dr. Koss joined the staff of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City where he remained until the end of 1970, except for a few years of military service in Korea. He had fond memories of his association with the legendary pathologist, Dr. Fred W. Stewart, and many other distinguished colleagues at Sloan-Kettering. In 1973, Dr. Koss became the Chairman of the Department of Pathology at Montefiore Medical Center and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, where he remained active until his death as Professor and Chairman Emeritus.

Seventy years ago, Dr. Koss nearly perished as he escaped from France into Switzerland for safety. Miraculously, he was not to be sent back to France and, in September 1943, resumed his studies in medicine. His parents and only sister perished during the Holocaust.

Of those years, Dr. Koss wrote an article published in PBS Frontline in 1997, “The Swiss have not only saved my life, but also gave me an outstanding education that has allowed me to forge a successful scientific career in the United States.” In gratitude to the Swiss people, Dr. Koss established a lectureship at the University of Bern in 1996.

“Dr. Koss was one of the founding fathers for the field of Cytopathology,” said Dr. Blair Holladay, Executive Vice President at the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP). “Through his scientific investigation with Dr. [George] Papanicolaou and multiple other scholars, he developed the fundamentals of our practice that allow for the early diagnosis of cancer. It was through his revolutionary and groundbreaking textbooks that we were taught to practice the profession and, in return, advance the field cancer diagnostics. He is, and will always be, the Godfather we all looked to for our scientific acuity. Leo Koss was our teacher, mentor, but most of all, our friend and supporter.”

Well-regarded in the pathology profession, Dr. Koss received many honors over the years, including the Papanicolaou, Goldblatt, and Masubuchi Awards, the Sloan Award in Cancer Research and the Gold-headed Cane Award from the American Society of Investigative Pathology. He was an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Pathologists in Great Britain, a member of the German Academy of Sciences in Leopoldina, Germany, and an Emeritus Fellow of ASCP. Dr. Koss was honored as “Distinguished Pathologist” by the U.S.-Canadian Academy of Pathology and the Association of Pathology Chairmen. He was one of the original members of the American Society for Cytopathology (ASC) and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the ASC in 2002.

ASCP members may add to a memory book for Dr. Koss that the American Society of Cytopathology has posted on its website by clicking here.


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