In Memoriam: Stefan S. Fajans, 1918–2014
Stefan S. Fajans, M.D., age 96, passed away on June 22, 2014. Dr. Fajans was Active Professor Emeritus of Internal Medicine, Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Diabetes, recognized nationally and internationally as a distinguished endocrinologist and as a leader in his specialty of diabetes.
"Steve was a leader, an intellectual, a clinician, a scientist, a father, an athlete, a mentor to many of us, and much more. There will never be another one quite like him," said Dr. Peter Arvan, Chief of the Division of Metabolism, Endocrinology & Diabetes. "What he has passed along to us is not just what is in the division now, or what is in the published literature, but what he has done with his life. His life is more than an amazing story, it’s an inspiration."
Dr. Fajans was born on March 15, 1918 in Munich, Germany, the son of Polish parents, Kasimir (Professor of Physical Chemistry) and Salomea (Kaplan) Fajans. He came to the U.S.A. and Ann Arbor with his parents in 1936. He earned his B.S. in chemistry (1938) and M.D. (1942) at the University of Michigan, where he spent his entire academic career after one year of internship in N.Y.C. and close to three years in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War II. He was a member of the 41st Evacuation Hospital, which landed on Omaha Beach on D-day plus 3.
He was married to Ruth Stine, a biochemist working at the University of Michigan, in Washington, D.C. in 1947. The marriage was a close and loving one for 64 years. Dr. Fajans worked at the University of Michigan Hospital from 1946 until shortly before his death.
Dr. Fajans rose to the rank of Chief of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism and was founding director of the NIH-funded Michigan Diabetes Research and Training Center for many years, before becoming Active Professor Emeritus in 1988. He had a productive research program on the natural history, genetics, diagnosis, and the treatment of diabetes.
Dr Fajans’s pioneering research included the demonstration of the involvement of amino acids and proteins on insulin secretion. He made novel contributions to the knowledge that diabetes was not a single disease, but consisted of several subtypes with different causes. He was the first to describe a subtype of type 2 diabetes, Maturity-Onset Diabetes of the Young (MODY). He co-published the first paper to describe a genetic marker of MODY and the gene itself. From the time of his official retirement, he continued an active research program on MODY. In the last few years before his death, he published five articles in scientific journals on various aspects of diabetes.
Among Dr. Fajans’s honors have included the presidency of the American Diabetes Association, the vice-presidency of the Endocrine Society, and invitations to give many national and international awarded lectureships, including the Banting Memorial Lectures of three countries. At the University of Michigan he received the Henry Russell Award and Lecture, the highest honor the University bestows on a faculty member.
The Stefan S. Fajans/GlaxoSmithKline Professorship in Diabetes was established in 2003 and the Annual Stefan S. Fajans Lectureship in Diabetes in 2010 to pay tribute to his remarkable professional and personal accomplishments. He was also inducted into the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Science. Dr. Fajans had a reputation as an excellent investigator, teacher and clinician and greatly enjoyed the training of young physicians and co-workers.
Together with his beloved wife, Ruth, he greatly enjoyed traveling, often in connection with invitations to give professional lectures and to participate in national and international meetings in many countries on all five continents. Dr. Fajans loved downhill skiing (in which he participated enthusiastically until age 80), tennis, and hiking with his family and many friends. He also greatly enjoyed reading and listening to music. His wife Ruth preceded him in death on May 3, 2012. He is survived by his sons Peter (Daniar) and John (Luanne) and grandchildren Jeffrey, Jessica, and Mark.
In lieu of flowers, the Fajans family has indicated that contributions in his memory may be made to the Stefan Fajans Honorary Endowment Fund. You can donate online here or contribute a check made out to the Regents of the University of Michigan and send to: University of Michigan Comprehensive Diabetes Center, Brehm Tower, Suite 6300, 1000 Wall Street, Ann Arbor MI, 48105.