Gerd Maul, Noted Wistar Scientist, Dies at the Age of 70

Gerd Maul, Noted Wistar Scientist, Dies at the Age of 70

August 23, 2010

(PHILADELPHIA – August 24, 2010) – Gerd G. Maul, Ph.D., of Wynnewood, Pa., a faculty member of The Wistar Institute since 1973, died Monday, August 23 at the age of 70. A respected scientist, as well as an accomplished artist and photographer, Dr. Maul led a distinguished career in the study of the structure and function of the cell nucleus – the “control center” of the cell – and its response to viral infection and stress.

“Gerd Maul was a talented, thoughtful man whose cool and pleasant demeanor belied the passion that boiled beneath,” said Russel E. Kaufman, M.D., President and CEO of The Wistar Institute. “We saw this passion emerge in both his art and his science, and I hold him up as proof that the creative human spark can know many outlets. He was an exceptional scientist and his colleagues will continue his work.”

Gerd Maul was born in Silesia, Germany on March 14, 1940. He received both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from the Technical University of Darmstadt, Germany. As a young man, he became a world traveler, backpacking across Europe and Asia. His growing interest in photography mirrored and complemented his appreciation for natural structures in biology. After receiving his master’s degree in 1965, he traveled to the United States where he enrolled in a doctoral program in zoology at the University of Texas in Austin, and he began his postdoctoral research at what was then the M.D. Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas. In 1969, prior to joining Wistar, he moved to Philadelphia to be an assistant professor at the Temple University School of Medicine.

Dr. Maul was recruited to The Wistar Institute as an associate professor in 1973 on the strength of his scientific interest as well as his capabilities in electron microscopy. He became a full professor in 1986 and was a member of Wistar’s Gene Expression and Regulation Program.

By the time Dr. Maul joined Wistar, he was already a noted expert in electron microscopy. The electron microscope became his tool of choice in his chosen field, which involved probing the physical structure of the cell nucleus in order to understand how it functioned in both health and disease. He was known to regard microscopy as yet another form of art, as valid as his photography. So passionate was he about electron microscopy that, when Wistar retired one of his favorite electron microscopes, Dr. Maul installed it in his backyard as a work of art.

Dr. Maul is widely recognized in his field for the discovery of a new nuclear structure, often referred to as “nuclear dots,” which he first published in the Journal of Cell Biology in 1991. The function of nuclear dots – formally known as nuclear domain 10 (ND10) due to the fact that Maul found roughly 10 of them in every cell’s nucleus – are still a subject for scientific examination.

His hypothesis, supported by his later research, was that these bodies served as a storage area for proteins related to defending the cell from environmental changes. This “depot hypothesis” describes how proteins released from ND10s function to buffer the cell from rapid changes due to stress, such as heat-shock or even chemotherapy, a notion that may apply to strengthening the effectiveness of cancer treatments.

In recent years, his interest in nuclear structure led him to study the relationship between the nucleus and cytomegalovirus – an otherwise manageable virus that can cause severe consequences in people with weakened immune systems, among others. His laboratory pursued the idea of creating a cytomegalovirus vaccine.

Dr. Maul was due to retire from The Wistar Institute this fall. His Wistar colleagues intend to see to completion his two remaining studies.

“Gerd’s death affects us all, but I don’t want people to feel sad that his death occurred so close to his retirement,” said Louise Showe, Ph.D., a Wistar professor and longtime friend of Dr. Maul’s. “Gerd loved his scientific work and continued to be excited about it. He had a rich, curiosity-filled life and was not waiting until retirement to do the things he loved.”

In addition to science, one of Dr. Maul’s great loves was art. He worked in multiple media, including sculpture, photography, and silk-screen printing. His themes routinely reflected his interest in both the quest for knowledge embodied in his science and an appreciation of form. His works had been exhibited in numerous shows in Philadelphia, including the Institute for Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania and the Highwire Gallery. In recent years, Dr. Maul had taken up writing, delving into fiction as well as memoirs of his adventures as a youth.

Dr. Maul’s perspective on art and science is exemplified in a haiku of his own composition hung on his office wall:

Whenever leaves fall
I will go to find lost time
Wherever it hides

He was the husband of Ursula Maul and father to Monika and Julius Maul. The family will receive guests on Thursday, August 26 from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Chadwick & McKinney Funeral Home, 30 E. Athens Avenue, in Ardmore, Pa. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested that contributions be made in Dr. Maul’s memory to Cardiovascular Research, c/o Lankenau Hospital Foundation, 100 E. Lancaster Avenue, Wynnewood, PA 19096. A memorial program in his honor will be held at The Wistar Institute in September.

The Wistar Institute is an international leader in biomedical research with special expertise in cancer research and vaccine development. Founded in 1892 as the first independent nonprofit biomedical research institute in the country, Wistar has long held the prestigious Cancer Center designation from the National Cancer Institute. The Institute works actively to ensure that research advances move from the laboratory to the clinic as quickly as possible. The Wistar Institute: Today’s Discoveries – Tomorrow’s Cures. On the Web at www.wistar.org.

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