Retrospective

Philip W. Majerus (1937 – 2016)

Elizabethe Holland Durando
By Elizabethe Holland Durando
Oct. 1, 2016

Philip W. Majerus, a renowned hematologist and professor emeritus of medicine at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died at his home in St. Louis on June 8, after a long illness. He was 79.

Majerus is best known for research showing that low-dose aspirin prevents blood clots, reducing risk of heart attack and stroke. The discovery is credited with saving thousands of lives each year.

Philip W. MajerusPHOTO COURTESY OF WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY

“Phil was an esteemed colleague to many and an extraordinary mentor who was internationally recognized as a gifted and dedicated scientist,” said Victoria J. Fraser, the Adolphus Busch professor and head of the department of medicine. “He will always be recognized for his unbridled passion and enthusiasm for scientific discovery and life. His commitment to ensuring rigorous and critical analysis of medical and scientific problems stimulated new lines of investigation, fostered successful careers and promoted the pursuit of excellence.”

Over a career spanning more than four decades, Majerus led research that describes the way blood clots. His work studying aspirin demonstrated that platelets play an active role in clotting, overturning the long-held idea that platelets were simply passive components of blood clots.

Majerus showed that aspirin interferes with platelet activation, reducing blood vessel constriction and dialing down the cascade of events that leads clots to form. He showed that when molecules called clotting factors interact with receptors on the surface of platelets, the platelets activate and set off a chain of reactions that makes them stick to one another and to proteins that also assemble as a result of this activation.

The work on clotting led Majerus down additional pathways, resulting in an extensive body of work understanding the inositol system, which is involved in blood clotting but also has far-reaching roles in many other cellular functions, including movement, growth, differentiation, nutrient transport and programmed cell death.

“Phil was a brilliant physician-scientist whose research has had a major impact on how we practice medicine today,” said Stuart Kornfeld, the David C. and Betty Farrell professor of medicine and Majerus’ longtime colleague and close friend. “His work involving low-dose aspirin and its use to prevent heart attacks is a perfect example of this. But equally important, Phil inspired generations of students and trainees with his enthusiasm, his straight talk and the rigor of his work.”

Majerus joined the School of Medicine faculty in 1966 as an assistant professor of biochemistry and of medicine. He became a professor of medicine in 1971 and a professor of biochemistry in 1976 and served on the medical school faculty until 2014, when he was named a professor emeritus of medicine.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in science in 1958 from Notre Dame University and his medical degree in 1961 from Washington University. He completed his internship and residency at Massachusetts General Hospital and then served as a research associate at what was then the National Heart Institute.

Majerus was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Society for Clinical Investigation. He received the Dameshek Prize for research from the American Society of Hematology.

His hobbies included skiing, running and backpacking.

He is survived by his wife, Elaine Majerus, an associate professor of medicine at Washington University; sisters Diane (Brick) Brewer and Kathy (Roby) Burke; daughters Suzanne (Rodney) Thompson, Julie Del Valle and Karen Majerus; son David (Cecily) Majerus; and four grandchildren.

This obituary originally appeared in Washington University’s The Source. 

Elizabethe Holland Durando
Elizabethe Holland Durando

Elizabethe Holland Durando is director of medical news at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

Related articles

Robert L. Post (1920 – 2021)
Jack H. Kaplan, Paul J. DeWeer & Joseph F. Hoffman
Herbert Tabor 1918 – 2020
F. Peter Guengerich
Sydney Brenner (1927 – 2019)
Terrence Sejnowski
Roberta F. Colman (1938 – 2019)
Harold B. White & Judith G. Voet

Join the ASBMB Today mailing list

Sign up to get updates on articles, interviews and events.

Latest in People

People highlights or most popular articles

Samuel H. Wilson Jr. (1939–2021)
In Memoriam

Samuel H. Wilson Jr. (1939–2021)

June 14, 2021

He made seminal contributions to the field of DNA repair and served for decades as a leader at the National Institutes of Health.

Academy elects new members
Member News

Academy elects new members

June 7, 2021

Of the 120 new members elected to the National Academy of Sciences, nine are ASBMB members.

Can people vaccinated against COVID-19 still spread the coronavirus?
News

Can people vaccinated against COVID-19 still spread the coronavirus?

June 6, 2021

Preliminary evidence seems to suggest that someone who’s vaccinated is less likely transmit the virus, but the proof is not yet ironclad.

How an interest in circuits led to a career in medical devices
Jobs

How an interest in circuits led to a career in medical devices

June 4, 2021

Our industry careers columnist spoke with Damini Agarwal of Infinite Biomedical Technologies.

Exploring underappreciated molecules and new cities
Interview

Exploring underappreciated molecules and new cities

June 2, 2021

Neurochemist Xianlin Han has been an associate editor for the Journal of Lipid Research since 2019.

Goldwater scholars announced
Member News

Goldwater scholars announced

May 31, 2021

The recipients of these scholarships are second- and third-year undergraduates from across the United States. Eight are ASBMB student members.