Robert G. Spiro, 1929 – 2015

Robert Gunter Spiro, professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School, died May 16, at age 86 after a courageous battle with stomach cancer.

Spiro carried out his research primarily at the Joslin Diabetes Center, where he focused on the kidney complications of diabetic patients. From 1961 until his retirement, Spiro had academic appointments at Harvard Medical School and the Joslin Diabetes Center in Boston. Spiro’s wife, Mary Jane Spiro, joined his laboratory in 1966. They collaborated on diabetes research for more than 35 years.

Spiro’s studies on the kidney glomerulus in diabetes provided a biochemical rationale for tight blood glucose control, a universally accepted concept. This work won him the American Diabetes Association’s Lilly Award in 1968. Spiro was also a major pioneer in the field of glycobiology. He established the Glycoproteins and Biomembranes Section of the Joslin Research Laboratory and served as chief of this section.

In 1954, while a medical student, Spiro noticed the signs and symptoms of type 1 diabetes. He lived with this disease without serious complications. The Joslin Diabetes Center gave him a 50-Year Survival Medal. Spiro gave something back — announcing the establishment of the Robert G. Spiro M.D. Endowed Campership Fund. This fund’s annual distribution goes to children with diabetes who need financial assistance to attend the Elliott P. Joslin Camping Programs.

In 1975, Spiro received the Claude Bernard Medal from the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, one of the highest honors in the field of diabetes. In 2008, he received the Rosalind Kornfeld Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for Glycobiology. Last fall, Spiro received the Diabetes Center Lifetime Achievement Award from Joslin for his significant contributions to the fight against diabetes.

Spiro had a most distinguished research career. He will be missed by all who knew him!

Harry Schachter is a senior scientist emeritus at the Hospital for Sick Children and a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto.