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BU Research Scientist Killed in Back Bay Biking Accident

CReM associate Anita Kurmann remembered as “selfless” and “a trusted friend”

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anita kurman

Anita Kurmann, a researcher in BU’s Center for Regenerative Medicine, died Friday when struck by a flatbed tractor-trailer truck while bicycling from her home in Cambridge. Photo courtesy of BU Center for Regenerative Medicine

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

12 Comments on BU Research Scientist Killed in Back Bay Biking Accident

  • asdf on 08.10.2015 at 6:40 am

    Hopefully BU will honor her by making the roads safer for cyclists, and maybe by cracking down on some of the atrocious driving and parking in bike lanes on Comm Ave.

    • Alum on 08.10.2015 at 8:07 am

      +1

    • Kitty on 08.10.2015 at 9:04 am

      What a tragedy. When I heard the news stories about the accident, I hoped this off-campus death was not a member of the Boston University community.

      The City of Boston controls the public streets — their design, speed limits, markings — not Boston University. The Boston Police their union have vigorously advocated for years against Boston University Police having the right to enforce motor vehicle laws. It is indeed tragic that union territoriality repeatedly takes precedence over the safety of the lives of pedestrians, motorists, and cyclists who pass through the campus daily.

  • Commuting by Bike on 08.10.2015 at 9:39 am

    Such a tragedy.

    As a student and new transplant to Boston I’m unfamiliar with the changes (improvements?) that have been made in making this city bike friendly. All I know is that commuting through town is a harrowing experience every single time.

    • Adam on 08.10.2015 at 11:34 am

      The keys to being a successful cyclist in Boston – read up on the law and always expect the worst from motorists. Assume they don’t see you and they don’t care about you.

      It’s rare to see a motorist using a turn signal, so be cautious approaching intersections. My advice is to look at the front wheel of the vehicle nearest you so you can have a guess as to what the driver’s intentions are. I always try to make eye contact with drivers turning out of a street into my lane, so that I’m recognized as an actual human being.

  • Thiago da Silva on 08.10.2015 at 12:05 pm

    It is so sad, just depressing. That is actually my route to and from work. I cannot tell how many times I have seen bikers badly hurt on Mass Ave. Recently, I was in an accident right in front of MIT because of a car parked in the bike lane. None of the people involved asked me if I was okay or needed any help. Drastic changes need to be made to make biking in Boston/Cambridge truly safe.

  • Kath on 08.10.2015 at 2:29 pm

    I feel bad for Ms. Kurmann and her family. That intersection and turn are very clear. The truck driver would have known that he ran over someone.

  • J Luo on 08.10.2015 at 3:38 pm

    Is it really THAT hard to block trucks from transiting MASS Ave during rush hour? It is not the first time I hear of accidents involving trucks/flat beds on some MASS Ave intersection.

  • Frederick on 08.10.2015 at 3:46 pm

    I bike this way every day, one of the problems is the bus needs to pivot into the right turn lane, then jack knife out to go straight in the middle lane. The middle lane is technically a bike lane, but bikes pile in the right lane which is supposed to be turn only. It is super confusing, I have seen cars in the middle lane race to try to over take a biker and turn quickly to the right, so dangerous. This all causes the right/middle lane coming from the bridge to funnel into a mess. Also, I have taken that right turn and had a runner/biker/skateboarder coming AT ME when it is one way the other way. It is such a dangerous area… No one knows exactly what occurred (that I can find), but that intersection is a mess. So horribly sad, be careful out there bikers and be mindful of bikers please.

  • Cristiano on 08.10.2015 at 9:15 pm

    It saddened me so much to learn that another human being was innocently killed at this intersection of Mass Avenue and Beacon Street; My heart goes out to her family across the Atlantic having to bear the lost of a family member in such a tragic manner, in a foreign land. I totally agree with some of the commentators above that something must be done to curb these terrible deadly accidents that seem to occur so frequent in this area; Not long ago (maybe 2 years ago) an Asian woman also got killed in a bicycle/car collision accident at the corner of Charles-gate West and Beacon Street; Then a young man on a motorcycle also lost his life when he was hit by a driver about a year ago right at the beginning of the Mass Avenue bridge, very close to the Beacon Street intersection. Just too many deadly accidents in the area, the mayor needs to take action soon.

  • Tom on 08.10.2015 at 11:03 pm

    Riding a bike in Boston is a bad idea. That should be the take away

    • Michelle on 08.11.2015 at 3:28 pm

      It’s not a bad idea at all. Instead, we need more people to ride bikes so that drivers pay more attention to people who bike. There are adequate bike lanes and paths in the city though I hope they could be better protected in the future. The take away is to reduce cars on the roads by letting odd number and even number license plates alternate days on the road. Better yet ban all trucks and cars from the city, make public transportation free, and provide incentives for people who ride their bike.

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