Announcement of the Passing of John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD

February 10, 2022

Dear Colleagues,

We are saddened to announce the passing of John Q. Trojanowski, MD, PhD, an esteemed colleague, mentor and role model, whose pioneering research and transformative leadership over the course of a career spanning more than 40 years helped to establish Penn as a leading center of research on aging and neurodegenerative disease. Dr. Trojanowski passed away on February 8, 2022. He was 75.

Dr. Trojanowski joined the Penn faculty in 1981 and rose through the ranks to become the William Maul Measey - Truman G. Schnabel, Jr., MD, Professor of Geriatric Medicine and Gerontology in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine. An internationally recognized expert in the pathobiology of neurodegenerative disease, Dr. Trojanowski’s research focused on Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), frontotemporal degeneration, and related disorders. Along with his wife and lifelong scientific partner, Virginia M.-Y. Lee, PhD, Dr. Trojanowski made the seminal discovery in 1991 that the tangles in Alzheimer’s disease were formed from Tau. Drs. Trojanowski and Lee and their colleagues at Penn went on to make a succession of groundbreaking discoveries, showing that the aggregation and cell-to-cell spread of specific disease proteins is a common mechanism underlying Alzheimer’s and related disorders. Over the decades, their evolving research program kept Penn at the forefront of this dynamic field. The patient-oriented focus of the extensive basic and clinical work undertaken by Dr. Trojanowski and his colleagues has helped to identify numerous targets for potential drug therapies and treatments.

His colleagues remember John as a passionate scientist, who was at the same time extremely modest about his accomplishments because he always emphasized the collaborative nature of his work and the teamwork that went into it. Dr. Trojanowski helped establish and expand a robust network of aging related research at Penn. In 1991 he became co-director with Dr. Lee of the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research. That same year he became director of the NIA Alzheimer’s Disease Center Core. In 2002, Dr. Trojanowski was appointed Director of the Institute on Aging, which he helped shape into a model center, catalyzing a wide range of innovative work on aging and aging-related diseases across the entire Penn campus. His leadership helped make Penn one of the top 10 institutions in the country receiving NIA funding. Programs he helped establish include the Marian S. Ware Alzheimer Program, the Penn Alzheimer’s Disease Center, the Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence for Parkinson’s Disease Research, and the NIA Penn U19 Center on Alpha-synuclein Strains in Alzheimer Disease and Related Dementias.

Beyond his far-reaching impact at Penn, Dr. Trojanowski worked at the national and international level, promoting and advancing aging research, especially related to neurodegenerative diseases. He was active on the NIA’s Board of Scientific Counselors, National Advisory Council on Aging, and Neuroscience, Behavior and Sociology of Aging Review Committee. Among many other national leadership positions, he served as president of the American Association of Neuropathology.

Over the course of his distinguished career, Dr. Trojanowski gained the respect of his peers across the country and around the world. He received numerous awards and honors for his work, including election to the National Academy of Medicine and the Alzheimer’s Association Lifetime Achievement Award.

Dr. Trojanowski was born in Bridgeport, CT, in 1946, while his family was moving from Tallahassee, FL, to Bangor, ME. His father was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and Dr. Trojanowski grew up attending military schools as his family moved frequently to various Air Force Bases in the U.S. and overseas. He received his MD-PhD from Tufts in 1976, followed by an Internship and Residency at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, where he met Dr. Lee. They were married in 1979. Moving from Boston to Philadelphia, Dr. Trojanowski completed his residency training at Penn in 1980, and along with Dr. Lee joined the faculty the following year.

Their scientific partnership gelled from the start of their Penn careers. Little was known about Alzheimer’s disease in the 1980s, and senior faculty advised them to steer clear of the topic as a career killer. They went ahead anyway. As Dr. Trojanowski once told an interviewer: "We thought it was a lot of fun to collaborate as life partners, as well as to collaborate as lab partners, and it worked very well. We both immediately realized that if we were to pursue other science in the future, we needed something we could do together that would be a career's worth of work—we didn't want to just work on something together for a year or two. We asked ourselves, what could we put our heart and souls into over the long haul that would make a difference, that would address an enormous public health problem?"

Dr. Trojanowski’s penetrating insights into the pathobiology of neurodegenerative disease, passionate spirit, and inspired leadership constituted an exceptional career in academic medicine. His work elevated our institution and paved the way to improve the lives of older adults around the world. A tribute to Dr. John Trojanowski's legacy and a celebration of his accomplishments will be forthcoming.    

J. Larry Jameson, MD, PhD, EVP/Dean

Kevin B. Mahoney, UPHS CEO

Jonathan A. Epstein, MD, EVD/CSO

David B. Roth, MD, PhD, Chair, Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine