Jeffrey S. Schechner, associate professor of dermatology at Yale School of Medicine who advanced research on human skin grafting and blood vessels in the skin, died of a stroke on Sept. 7 in New Haven. He was 39 years old.
Members of the dermatology department said Schechner will be sorely missed. At the time of his death, Schechner had been working alongside his mentor, professor of Pathology, Immunobiology & Dermatology Jordan Pober, to develop improved skin substitutes for patients, such as the elderly or diabetics. with impaired ability to form new blood vessels. This technique could improve the reliability of synthetic skin graft performance by incorporating pre-formed blood vessels derived from cultured endothelial cells, Pober said.
“Dr. Schechner was involved in designing a clinical trial to test this approach at the time of his death,” Pober said in an email.
In a letter to faculty and staff, chairman of dermatology at Yale and director of the Yale Cancer Center Richard Edelson said the Department of Dermatology greatly laments the loss of Schechner.
“Although we have all been robbed of the many more years of friendship and partnership with Jeff that we had expected, all that we are and can become has been immeasurably enriched by his priceless contributions to our programs and environment,” Edelson said.
Pober said he admired and would miss the professionalism, friendliness and “wonderful sense of humor” of his former colleague.
“He was one of the very few dermatologists who was also very good at laboratory research,” Pober said. “He was also very warm and an emphatic human being. His patients thought he was wonderful.”
Pober said Schechner worked along with both graduate and undergraduate students in conducting his research. Carlos Wesley MED ’05, who worked with Schechner in researching endothelial cells, said he esteemed Schechner because of how much he cared about his students.
“Professor Schechner was always very open to student ideas and projects. He was always available and he was always proactive,” Wesley said. “He would actually seek out students in the class to see how their progress was and if they needed any help.”
While studying at the Yale Medical School, Schechner became interested in vascular biology. He interned at Boston University Medical Center before completing his residency in dermatology at Yale. During his residency in 1991-1992, Schechner worked alongside dermatology professor Irwin Braverman to map the skin microvasculature in humans using laser-Doppler measurements.
For Schechner’s work on producing artificial skin, the key finding was the unexpected effect of the anti-apoptotic protein Bc1-2 on endothelial cell behavior. This effect allowed Schechner to find that human skin can be developed with blood vessels from cultured endothelial cells. Schechner’s work within Yale’s Vascular Biology and Transplantation Program continues to serve as a tool for improved tissue engineering.
Schechner is survived by his wife, Christina Herrick, assistant professor of dermatology at Yale, his four-year old son Evan and his one-year old daughter Phoebe. Herrick declined to comment.
Memorial contributions in Schechner’s name can be made to the Dermatology Foundation in Evanston, Ill.