October 13, 2011

Memorial on Sunday for Eric Engel, M.D., VUMC Genetics Pioneer

By Bill Snyder

A memorial ceremony for pioneering geneticist Eric Engel, M.D., a former Vanderbilt University professor and researcher, will be held at 3 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 23, at St. Augustine’s Chapel, 200 24th Ave. S.

Dr. Engel, who was internationally known for his study of chromosomal abnormalities and their contribution to human disease, died last month in his native Geneva, Switzerland, at age 85.

Dr. Engel earned his medical degree from the Geneva University School of Medicine and received residency training in endocrinology at Geneva University Hospital.

In 1960, he accepted positions as instructor in Medicine at Harvard Medical School and clinical and research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, where he distinguished himself in the field of cytogenetics, the study of human chromosomes.

Three years later, he was recruited to Vanderbilt University School of Medicine to help establish a medical genetics section and direct the cytogenetics lab. Dr. Engel later was named professor of Medicine, associate professor of Pediatrics and director of the Division of Genetics.

By the early 1970s, he had developed a reputation as one of the few leading cytogeneticists in the country. Among other achievements, he was among the first to describe the association of deletions, duplications and translocations (rearrangement of parts of two chromosomes) with human leukemia.

In 1978, Dr. Engel returned to Geneva to direct the University Institute of Medical Genetics. There he proposed, in a paper published in 1980, the concept of “uniparental disomy,” in which a person inherits both copies of a particular chromosome from one parent, with no copy from the other parent.

Uniparental disomy is now known to contribute to developmental disorders including Prader-Willi syndrome and Angelman syndrome.

Dr. Engel was a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the American Society of Human Genetics and the Club Européen de Conseil Génétique.

He remained a prolific writer after his retirement in 1991. Genomic Imprinting and Uniparental Disomy in Medicine, co-written with Stylianos Antonarakis, M.D., was published in 2001.

Dr. Engel is survived by his brother Pierre, his wife Mireille, their daughters Fabienne and Séverine, and son Olivier.