BU Research Scientist Killed in Back Bay Biking Accident
CReM associate Anita Kurmann remembered as “selfless” and “a trusted friend”
A BU research scientist and endocrine surgeon at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center was killed Friday morning while riding her bicycle in the Back Bay. Anita Kurmann, 38, who had come to Boston from Switzerland, was struck by a tractor-trailer truck at 7 a.m. at the intersection of Beacon Street and Massachusetts Avenue. She was a researcher in Boston Medical Center/BU’s Center for Regenerative Medicine (CReM), where she was developing ways to turn stem cells into thyroid tissue.
CReM codirector Darrell Kotton, a School of Medicine professor of medicine and pathology, says Kurmann had made great progress in a remarkably short time. “Most impressive is that she was one of the most selfless people I know,” Kotton says. “She gave of her time so generously to many of us and cared so deeply about the success and mission of her teammates. Despite all her accomplishments, she was humble, soft-spoken, and kind, and felt the most joy when celebrating the successes of her colleagues.”
Kurmann was planning on returning to Switzerland later this year to set up her own lab, and was to have been appointed to the position of chief of endocrine surgery at the hospital where she worked in Bern.
The collision occurred when the truck was turning right from Massachusetts Avenue onto Beacon Street. The truck driver failed to stop, and was located by police Friday night. Boston Police have not named the operator of the truck and say that an accident investigation is ongoing. The Boston Globe reports that a memorial honoring Kurmann has been fashioned at the site, with flowers, notes, and a letter from an eyewitness to the tragedy, addressed to Kurmann and her family, assuring them that “your daughter left this world with love and concern by her side.” Witnesses to the accident had stopped and offered comfort at the scene.
Kurmann arrived in the United States three years ago to take a position as a research fellow in the thyroid lab of Tony Hollenberg, chief of the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) Thyroid Unit and of the Endocrinology, Diabetes, and Metabolism Division and a Harvard Medical School associate professor. Hollenberg says Kurmann had come there to broaden her knowledge of basic science and was instrumental in developing a new program on the development of thyroid follicular cells. He credits her with helping to build a unique relationship between BIDMC and CReM researchers.
“Anita was the lynchpin between an amazing collaboration between my lab and Darrell Kotton’s,” says Hollenberg. “Darrell and I…realized we had a common goal to develop thyroid tissue from stem cells. By coincidence, I had this new fellow arriving at BIDMC from Switzerland who wanted to work on something groundbreaking. So together with Darrell, we put her on this project. It succeeded due to her perseverance, skill, creativity, and ability to build interpersonal bridges and friendships. She was outstanding in every way.”
“Anita brought out the best in all of us,” says Kotton. “She was unanimously beloved and regarded as exemplary in all that she did; she was intelligent, well-read, hardworking, creative, and a trusted friend. Anita dedicated her life to her patients and her work, believing that her role as a surgeon scientist could most help those who suffer from thyroid diseases. She trained hard to be the best surgeon and researcher she could be.”
The goal of her research was to help patients born without a thyroid or who had had their thyroid removed.
“She found out with great joy that her work was accepted for publication in a journal just days before her death,” says Kotton, and she said that “completing her first coauthored manuscript representing her years of research in the CReM was one of her happiest and proudest moments.”
A memorial service is being planned for Kurmann. Details are not yet available.12 Comments