Jeffrey R. Peterson, 53, of Cheltenham, longtime professor of cell biology at Fox Chase Cancer Center, pioneering chemical biology researcher, volunteer and mentor, died of cancer at his home on Monday January 2nd.
Clever and creative, compassionate and committed, Dr. Peterson is an innovator in combining pharmacology and cancer cell biology to discover new ways to treat cancer. Joining Fox Chase in 2004, he immediately became one of the leading researchers and was given his own independent laboratory called the Peterson Lab.
He and his colleagues discovered a new type of cell fiber, identified new ways to inhibit cancer-causing proteins, devised a diet-based process to kill triple-negative breast cancer cells, and brought about unprecedented advances in cancer research and treatment in general.
He received a $1.4 million research grant from the US Department of Defense in 2019 and a $50,000 grant from the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition in 2015. In 2014, he won new microscopy lab equipment through BioTek Instruments’ Think Possible competition and built productive relationships with many labs around the world.
dr Peterson has published dozens of articles on why cancer cells migrate, how the immune system works, and other medical topics, and one of his most seminal papers on anti-cancer drugs has been cited nearly 1,000 times by other scientists. “Jeff’s work was always innovative,” said a colleague. Jonathan Chernoff, director at Fox Chase, said, “He was also one of the most popular people at our institution.”
dr Peterson has often been praised for his comprehensive presentations, compelling writing, and endearing sense of humor. A colleague noted his “smiling determination to cure cancer,” and another said, “He’s always looked at things from a different perspective than others. That was part of his creative genius.”
He was an advocate for diversity and inclusion, nurturing the careers of many of his postdocs and occasionally conducting science experiments for students at Abington Friends School. He has volunteered with the eClose Institute in Philadelphia student science projects and Fox Chase’s Immersion Science Program, and has worked with Philadelphia high school students and teachers to identify and train future scientists who share his passion for the fight against cancer .
Online Honors to Dr. Peterson flooded the internet after his death. “I’m honored that he was my friend,” said a colleague. A friend called him “one of the nicest people I’ve met.” His wife Beth Egan said: “He was a unique individual with a deep ability to be at peace, to move forward and never to be bitter. He lived every day to the fullest.”
Jeffrey Robert Peterson, born April 17, 1969 in Knoxville, Tennessee, received a bachelor’s degree in biology from Swarthmore College in 1991. He completed a Fulbright fellowship at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory at Heidelberg University in 1992 and received his PhD in cell biology from Yale University in 1998 and completed a postdoctoral fellowship in cell biology at Harvard University in 2003.
He studied with renowned biochemists Ari Helenius at Yale and Marc Kirschner at Harvard, and met Egan in 1993 while they were both at Yale. They married in 2000, had daughter Sophie and son Oliver and lived in Brookline, Mass. before moving to Cheltenham.
dr Peterson was an avid outdoorsman and enjoyed snowboarding, snorkeling, biking, hiking, and photography. He liked board games and traveled to Walt Disney World, St. John Island, Europe and elsewhere. In an online profile, he lists the 1,079-page novel Infinite joke as his favorite book and crème brûlée as his ideal dessert.
“Jeff was smart, kind, and loved his family,” said his father, Joe. His father’s wife, Lisa, said Dr. Peterson “made a lasting impression with the kindness he showed to everyone he met.”
In a tribute, his family, Dr. Peterson is “brilliant, easygoing, witty, funny, adventurous, accepting, upbeat, curious, generous and patient.” His sister Jenn George said: “Jeff’s zest for life was contagious. He lived in the moment, and his love of music, theater and travel inspired others to appreciate the same.”
His wife said: “As dedicated as he was as a scientist, he was as dedicated as a father. We had a blessed life.”
In addition to his wife, children, father and sister, Dr. Peterson other relatives.
A celebration of his life took place on January 7th.
Donations on his behalf may be made to the American Cancer Society, PO Box 6704, Hagerstown, Md. 21741.