Kenneth J. Ryan, M.D.

Kenneth J. Ryan

AGS: 1967, AGOS: 1981
Died January 5, 2002

Dr. Kenneth J. Ryan was born on August 26, 1926. He served in the United States Navy during World War II and then attended Northwestern College. In 1952 he graduated from Harvard Medical School, magna cum laude. He completed residency training in both Internal Medicine (Massachusetts General Hospital and Columbia-Presbyterian Hospital) and Obstetrics and Gynecology (Boston Lying-In Hospital and Free Hospital for Women). In 1961 he became Chairman and Arthur H. Bill Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Case Western Reserve University, where he served until 1970. From 1970 to 1972 he was Chairman and Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of California at San Diego School of Medicine. In 1973 he returned to Harvard as Chairman and the Kate Macy Ladd Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Reproductive Biology. He retired as Department Chairman in 1993. He served as the President of the Society for Gynecological Investigation and the American Gynecological and Obstetrical Society and was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Institute of Medicine.

Throughout his career, Dr. Ryan demonstrated a strong commitment to basic science research. His main scientific focus was the biology of steroidogenesis. Among his most important discoveries were: 1) the identification of the aromatase enzyme system which converts androgens to estrogens, 2) the development of the "two-cell" theory of steroidogensis, 3) the demonstration of metabolism of sex steroids by neuroendocrine tissues, 4) the discovery that 21-hydroxylase is a cytochrome-dependent enzyme and 5) the demonstration that estradiol and estrone are interconverted. Through his leadership he inspired many obstetrician-gynecologists to pursue basic research careers. He was an author on over 300 scientific publications.

In addition to his leadership in basic research, Dr. Ryan played a seminal role in the development of the field of medical ethics. In 1974 - 1978 he served as the Chairman of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research. A major focus of his efforts was to better understand the ethical principals that should guide researchers when they interact with children, prisoners, and adults with handicaps and individuals incapable of providing informed consent. In the 1980s a major focus of his efforts became the application of ethics to issues of reproductive health. Dr. Ryan was a forceful advocate of the right of reproductive choices for women. Dr. Ryan served as Chairman of the Ethics Committee of the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologist (1984-1988), the Chairman of the Department of Health and Human Services Scientific Issues in Human Transplantation Research Panel (1988-1989) and Chairman of the American Fertility Society Ethics Committee (1993-2001). He also served as the Chairman of the Department of Health and Human Services, Commission on Research Integrity.

Dr. Ryan was an inspirational and thoughtful leader who helped shape the structure of modern obstetrics and gynecology. He lived a life of ideas and ideals. His ideas helped to improve the practice of obstetrics and gynecology. His ideals inspired us to have the courage to improve ourselves and the world around us. Dr Ryan died on January 5, 2002. He was a trusted colleague and good friend. He will be greatly missed.

Submitted by Robert Barbieri, M.D. and Isaac Schiff, M.D.

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