After a distinguished medical career spanning two decades, Barry Kacinski ’75 MED ’80, professor and researcher at the Yale School of Medicine, died of a heart attack at the age of 50 on Nov. 20. Funeral services were held on Nov. 24 at St. Raphael’s hospital in New Haven.
Kacinski was an influential cancer researcher, who focused on growth and development of dermatologic and gynecologic tumors. He was also an instructor in therapeutic radiology, dermatology and obstetrics and gynecology at the medical school.
He is mourned by his colleagues, who praised both his personality and professionalism.
“He was an excellent teacher, teaching medical students and residents over the past 20 years,” said Bruce Haffty, professor of therapeutic radiology at the medical school. “I would just say he was a good person, and he was well liked by his students, residents and colleagues, and we will miss him.”
Kacinski was internationally recognized for his contributions to DNA repair and understanding of malignancies. He also focused on the growth and treatment of various cancers.
“He was an excellent researcher,” said Haffty. “He really had some landmark studies related to gynecologic malignancies and the molecular basis of tumor biology.”
His research was funded by many competitive grants, including those from the American Cancer Society, the National Cancer Institute, the Donaghue Medical Research Foundation, and the Leukemia Society.
In 1975, he graduated from Yale College as a molecular biophysics and biochemistry and mathematics double major. He graduated from Yale School of Medicine in 1980 and earned his Ph.D. in molecular biology and biophysics in 1981.
Kacinski’s doctoral research focused on repairing damage caused by ultraviolet rays. Later, he focused on ovarian and endometrial malignancies, and his laboratory developed techniques for studying growth factors in such tumors. His findings showed that expression of some growth factor receptors are related to breast cancer patient recovery, without further spread of cancer.
In recent work, Kacinski studied drug development and gene therapy that could attack cancer cells without injuring healthy tissues.
This facilitated further research, namely growing various forms of breast and ovarian tissue, used in the laboratory to study the effects of hormones, anti-hormones, anti-cancer drugs and radiation on the growth of breast and ovarian cancers. Kacinski headed a National Cancer Institute study in 2000 on the detection of ovarian cancer in its earliest and most treatable stage.
“The major problem we have with ovarian cancer is that we don’t really know what its earliest stage is,” Kacinski said in a press release about the study. “Our goal is to devise new means of identifying the very first abnormal ovarian cells and defining what a precursor lesion looks like.”
He did his internship in internal medicine and his residency in therapeutic radiology at Yale-New Haven Hospital. In 1983, Kacinski became a faculty member at the Yale School of Medicine in the Department of Therapeutic Radiology.
Kacinski also served on the Admissions Committee for the M.D./Ph.D program at the medical school for eight years and chaired the Thesis Committee for the Department of Therapeutic Radiology for 10 years. Kacinski was also a member of various expert advisory boards and national peer review panels.
In his career, Kacinski treated cancer patients at many medical institutions, including Yale-New Haven Hospital, the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, William W. Backus Hospital and Lawrence and Memorial Hospital.
In his lifetime, Kacinski also received many other prestigious awards including membership in Phi Beta Kappa, an Agrall and Anna Hull Cancer Research Award, and an award for Distinguished Leadership in Oncology, from the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas.