Dr. David Rimoin, pioneering geneticist, dies at 75

Dr. David Rimoin, a pioneering physician and researcher in the field of medical genetics, died May 27, 2012 at the age of 75.

Rimoin succumbed after a private battle with pancreatic cancer.

Colleagues and friends, many of whom were not aware of his sudden diagnosis, reacted with shock.

“We have lost a giant in the field of medicine,” said an official statement from the Cedars Sinai board of directors. “His medical contributions will continue to bring healing for generations.”

“David Rimoin was a magnificent scientist and physician whose contributions were global in scale,” said Thomas M. Priselac, president and CEO of Cedars-Sinai. “The arrival of David and his team in 1986 represented an essential element of the foundation on which Cedars-Sinai’s academic mission has grown and flourished over the years. His kindness and his grace were without equal.”

Dr. Rimoin held the Steven Spielberg Family Chair in Pediatrics and was Director of the Medical Genetics Institute at Cedars Sinai Medical Center.  He was also Professor of Pediatrics, Medicine and Human Genetics at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. At Cedars, he conducted groundbreaking research into dwarfism and skeletal dysplasia.  His 1970 demonstration that diabetes mellitus was the reflection of multiple genetic variants laid the foundation for the field of common disease genetics.  His 1983 textbook, Emery and Rimoins Principles and Practice of Medical Genetics remains a classic in the field.  Dr. Rimoin published over 400 articles in peer-reviewed journals.

David Rimoin was born in 1936 in Montreal, Canada.  He earned his PhD from McGill Medical School in 1961, and received his PhD in human genetics in 1967 from Johns Hopkins.

In 1970 he arrived in LA, where he built the division of human genetics first at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center, then at Cedars Sinai.

Also in 1970, Dr. Rimoin recruited Dr. Michael Kaback, who discovered enzyme screening for the deadly disease Tay Sachs, a hereditary disease among Ashkenazi Jews. Rimoin and Kaback instituted Tay Sachs screening first in California, then throughout the Jewish world, and the incidence of Tay Sachs has been reduced by 90 percent.

Among his initiatives, Dr. Rimoin launched and directed the Cedars-Sinai Persian Jewish Genetics Screening Program in 2009, focusing on detecting genetic diseases in that community, which numbers some 20,000 in the Los Angeles area.

In a 2010 interview with Dr. Norman Lavin for The Jewish Journal’s ” title=”Dr. Kaback said” target=”_blank”>Dr. Kaback said of his longtime colleague and friend at a 2010 ceremony honoring Dr. Rimoin with the Lifetime Achievement Award from the American College of Medical Genetics Foundation.

In a 2002 interview for the Oral History of Human Genetics Collection, Dr. Rimoin reflected on his own contributions to the field.

“What I really enjoy is putting people together and making these organizations work,” he said, “and making genetics a true specialty, which I’ve been fortunate to play a part in.”

“David had so much success,” said his wife of 32 years, Ann Garber Rimoin, Dr. Ph., in a statement, “but he was the most incredibly humble person, except when it came to bragging about his kids and supporting his family. He was wise, knew how to laugh, especially at himself, and he was the kindest man any of us knew – he showed us that kindness is the most important quality in a father, husband, friend and doctor.”

Dr. Rimoin, who lived in Beverly Hills, is survived by his wife Ann, his daughters Anne Rimoin, Ph.D.,M.P.H., and Lauren Rimoin, and his son Michael Rimoin.

The family is planning a private funeral and a public memorial. 

For the official Cedars-Sinai obituary,