March 11, 2005

VUMC mourns loss of investigator Kolodziej

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Peter Kolodziej, Ph.D.

VUMC mourns loss of investigator Kolodziej

Peter A. Kolodziej, Ph.D., assistant professor of Cell and Developmental Biology and Kennedy Center Investigator, passed away at his home on Thursday, March 3, following a brief illness. He was 42.

Dr. Kolodziej earned his bachelor's degree in biochemistry from Harvard University in 1983 and his Ph.D. in biology from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1991.

After his postdoctoral training at the University of California at San Francisco, Dr. Kolodziej joined the Vanderbilt faculty in 1996 as an assistant professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, and assistant investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Dr. Kolodziej's research focused on the genetic factors involved in the development of neurons and the trachea.

Using the fruit fly Drosophila as a model system, he identified and characterized several genes that direct axon extension and pathfinding, including the gene, Frazzled, whose human counterpart guides axons across the spinal cord midline during development.

Dr. Kolodziej's lab also identified a cytoskeletal protein called Short Stop that influences cell shape in the developing nervous system and the trachea.

A thorough and deliberate investigator, Dr. Kolodziej combined genetics, biochemistry and cell biology to attack research problems, said Susan Wente, Ph.D., professor and chair of Cell and Developmental Biology.

“Science was very important to Peter,” said Vivien Casagrande, Ph.D., professor of Cell and Developmental Biology, Psychology and Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences. “He worked very hard. He was here when I got here in the morning, and he was here when I left at night. And he personally did the bench work himself. He was very careful and meticulous about his work.”

His dedication to research was evident from his eagerness to share his latest discoveries.

“Sometimes Peter would come down to my office and not even knock so that he could share some exciting new finding.

“He'd just plunge in without any introduction. He was very eager, very excited and animated about what he was doing in science,” Casagrande said.

“Peter was a tireless, dedicated and scholarly scientist who will be greatly missed and whose impact on the program in Developmental Biology will be remembered for years to come,” said Christopher Wright, D. Phil., professor of Cell and Developmental Biology.

Only his devotion to his family could overshadow Dr. Kolodziej's devotion to his science.

“Peter was truly passionate about his science and his family,” Wente said. “If you saw him in the hall, he would stop you and tell you about his latest finding. But if you saw him in the hall on a weekend, he would have his two sons with him.”

“He was inspirational to graduate students, postdocs and faculty alike,” Wright said. “And he has instilled the magic of science in his children.”

“I considered him a good friend, and I already miss seeing him in the hall when I come to work,” Casagrande said.

Kolodziej is survived by his wife, Caroline Mullaney; two sons, Colin, age 7, and Quinn, age 2; his parents, Edward and Antje Kolodziej, father- and mother-in-law, Patrick and Ruby Mullaney; and three brothers, Andrew, Matthew and Daniel.

Private services were held on Monday, March 7 at the Marshall-Donnelly-Combs Funeral Home in Nashville. A memorial service for the Vanderbilt community was held at 4 p.m., Thursday, March 10 at Benton Chapel on the Vanderbilt campus. Dr. Kolodziej will be buried in Gilford, Conn., later this month.

Donations are being accepted for a fund established by the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology to provide for the immediate and long-term needs of Dr. Kolodziej's wife and children.

Please make checks payable to the Kolodziej Family Fund, and send to Angela Land-Dedrick in the Department of Cell and Developmental Biology.

The fund is open to anyone within or outside the Vanderbilt community wishing to contribute.