Department of Chemistry

In Memoriam: Lawrence M. Sayre, Ph.D.

Lawrence (Larry) M. Sayre, CWRU Professor of Chemistry, Pathology and Environmental Health Sciences

Lawrence M. Sayre

Lawrence (Larry) M. Sayre, Ph.D., an internationally renowned Professor of Chemistry, Pathology and Environmental Health Sciences at Case Western Reserve University whose research unraveled the molecular mechanisms of human diseases, died Friday, May 8, 2009 in Cleveland, Ohio. He was 57 years old, and died from brain injury precipitated by an intracranial hematoma, at the Hospice of the Western Reserve with his mother and wife at his side.

During his 27-year career at Case Western Reserve University (CWRU), Dr. Sayre published more than 190 research papers, served on a number of National Institutes of Health (NIH) Study Sections, as well as on the Editorial Board of the journal Chemical Research in Toxicology and the Long-range Planning Committee for the Medicinal Chemistry Division of the American Chemical Society.

Dr. Sayre was born in Chicago on July 25, 1951, and attended Stanford University and the University of California, San Diego for his undergraduate studies, receiving a BA in chemistry with highest honors in 1972 from UCSD. He then went on to the University of California, Berkeley, for his graduate studies with Professor Frederick R. Jensen, receiving his Ph.D. degree in 1977. This was followed by a year at Vega Biochemicals in Tucson and then three years postdoctoral research in medicinal chemistry under the direction of Professor Philip S. Portoghese at the University of Minnesota. He joined the Chemistry Department at CWRU as Assistant Professor in 1981, and rose through the ranks to Professor in 1993. He was appointed the Frank Hovorka Professor in 2000 and Chair of the Chemistry Department for a period of seven years from 2001. He was also Interim Chair of the Department of Modern Languages and Literatures from 2006 - 2008, and held professorial appointments in the departments of pathology and environmental health sciences, also at CWRU. Professor Sayre’s research bridged the fields of organic chemistry, medicinal chemistry, and biochemistry. He received a five-year Research Career Development Award from NIH in 1987, and the Sigma Xi Research Award (1988) and Mortar Board “Top Prof” Award (1997), both from CWRU.

Larry’s impact was multiplied by a knack for engaging other chemists and biomedical researchers in cooperative endeavors. In particular he had close relationships with Robert Salomon, Charles Hoppel, Pierluigi Gambetti, George Perry, Mark Smith and Vincent Monnier at CWRU as well as Eugene Podrez and Henry Hoff at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. With Dr. Hoppel he published 5 papers on mitochondrial dysfunction. With Dr. Gambetti he published 6 papers on chemical modifications of neuronal proteins. With Drs. Perry and Smith he had an active collaboration on chemical modifications of betaamyloid in Alzheimer disease resulting in 50 joint publications. He was a co-founder of the Protein Aging Group with Vincent Monnier with whom he collaborated on protein modifications by glycation in diabetes and aging, with Miriam Weiss (Medicine) and Ram Nagaraj (Ophthalmology) in studies of protein damage in end stage renal disease and cataract, respectively. With Drs. Salomon, Podrez and Hoff he investigated the role of lipid oxidation in atherosclerosis.

His discoveries on the involvement of protein modification by products of lipid oxidation in diabetes, cardiovascular and neurological diseases emerged from his insightful ideas, questions, and hypotheses. His collaborator Mark Smith, Professor of Pathology, noted, “I will always remember, and continue to strive for, his insistence on rigor and thoroughness, which ultimately results in excellence. What I loved about Larry, aside from his summer wardrobe of garish Hawaiian shirts and requisite humor to wear such stuff, was his willingness to listen to complete and utter nonsensical chemistry talk from me and gently set me straight.” Pierluigi Gambetti affectionately echoed these sentiments observing, “Larry had a relaxed attitude but invariably accurate knowledge.”

Vincent Monnier put it this way, “Larry’s participation as a co-investigator in numerous research programs on campus and at the CCF resulted in many Cleveland investigators being successful recipients of NIH grants, illustrating thereby how pivotal and literally irreplaceable he was as a scientist.” Referring to his collaborative studies with Larry and their impact on the molecular mechanisms underlying the most common disease in this country – cardiovascular disease – Eugene Podrez said, “it was comfortable for me as a person trained mostly in cell biology and biochemistry to approach this scientific problem together with somebody possessing a deep understanding of chemistry. Most importantly, the pure academic knowledge that we acquired from our collaborative studies may be applied in the future for creation of antagonists preventing the development of cardiovascular disease.” Robert Salomon, Professor of Chemistry, explained that, “Larry’s curiosity about the fundamental chemistry of biomolecules led to his discovery of a reaction between proteins and oxidized lipids. That breakthrough inspired studies involving researchers at the Cole Eye Institute of the Cleveland Clinic Foundation showing that such a reaction is a key event in the development of age-related macular degeneration. Other Cleveland Clinic scientists are pursuing investigations of its involvement in cancer growth and wound healing.”

Larry was a talented pianist and an avid jazz lover, in both performance and listening, and evenings out generally focused on those establishments that had live musical entertainment.

Dr. Sayre is survived by his beloved wife Marti, two sons Andy and Eric, brother Steven, and cherished mother Dorothy. In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to the Lawrence Sayre Department of Chemistry Scholarship Fund at Case Western Reserve University, c/o Gifts Processing, Case Western Reserve University, 10900 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland, OH 44106-7035, phone (216) 368-8552.