Alan Permutt: Confronted diabetes at home and in lab
Dr. Marshall Alan Permutt, a noted longtime researcher in the fight against diabetes died Mon., June 11, 2012 at his home in Clayton He was 72 years old.
A professor of medicine and cell biology and physiology during a long career at Washington University, Dr. Permutt, who went by his middle name Alan, had a string of important achievements in research dealing with Type 2 diabetes and, more recently, Wolfram Syndrome, an uncommon diabetes illness that affects the brain. According to an obituary provided by Washington University, he was instrumental in the creation of the world’s first multidisciplinary clinic dealing with the rare genetic disorder and attracting patients from all over the world.
Dr. Permutt, who died of cancer and battled the disease for several years, remained a member of the Washington University faculty until his death, said his daughter Joelle Permutt. The school lowered its flag to half-staff in recognition of Dr. Permutt.
Born in Birmingham, Ala., Dr. Permutt was himself afflicted with juvenile diabetes, a diagnosis he received while a camp counselor during his teen years. “Alan Permutt had diabetes, but he did not allow diabetes to control his life,” Dr. Clay Semenkovich, chief of endocrinology at Washington University, said in an e-mail. “Instead, he controlled his diabetes and that allowed him to make important contributions.”
Semenkovich said Dr. Permutt used genetic techniques to discover the causes of rare forms of diabetes and found the mechanisms involved were related to more common varieties of the illness. He said that treatments based on Dr. Permutt’s work may someday help many who cope with the disease.
Joelle Permutt remembered her father’s curious nature in matters far beyond the laboratory. “My dad was an accomplished scientist,” she said, “but I think more than that, he was very personable. He loved people and getting to know people. His lab was about much more than science. It was about the people that worked in his lab.”
She described him as an avid reader who enjoyed exercise, particularly cycling, as a way to combat his diabetes.
“Although we all struggle in life to find meaning, he was determined to find meaning in everything,” she said.
Rabbi Susan Talve, who officiated at Dr. Permutt’s service at Central Reform Congregation on Wednesday, called him an active member of the temple where he formerly sat on the board. She described him as an intelligent, enthusiastic individual who cared deeply about others. Having grown up in the south, he had seen hatred and was determined to make the world a better place, she said.
“He was one of a kind. There was really nobody else like him,” she said. “He was passionate about so much from the smallest thing to his work in diabetes research. He was passionate about whatever caught his attention.”
Dr. Permutt was preceded in death by his son, Alex. He is survived by two daughters, Joelle Mumford of Chapel Hill, N.C., and Robin Winer of Chicago; a sister, Patti Wainger of Norfolk, Va; a stepbrother, Maury Shevin of Birmingham; a stepsister, Jann Shevin of Las Vegas; four grandchildren; and longtime friend, Rhea Oelbaum of Clayton.
In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be made to the Jack and J.T. Snow Scientific Research Foundation, 17703 Gardenview Place Court, Glencoe, Mo., 63038. The organization is a foundation that supports Wolfram Syndrome research.