Maimon Cohen

[ Age 72 ] The son of Russian immigrants, accomplished doctor became a leader in development of medical genetics field.

January 26, 2007|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,sun reporter

Dr. Maimon M. Cohen, a leader in the development of medical genetics and first director of the Harvey Institute for Human Genetics at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, died of gastric cancer yesterday at Gilchrist Center for Hospice Care. The Pikesville resident was 72.

In 1997, Dr. Cohen joined GBMC as director of the genetics center that conducts research on adult diseases with genetic links, such as diabetes, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, some types of cancer and heart disease.

"Dr. Maimon Cohen was an incredible leader and a wonderful human being. He has left an indelible mark both on the field of human genetics and with his colleagues and patients at GBMC," said Laurence M. Merlis, the hospital's president and chief executive officer.

"It's a terrible loss of a person who has been such a wonderful and integral part of who we are at GBMC. Just last Saturday, he was talking about his future plans for the Harvey Institute. We were so worried about him and all along he was worrying about us," Mr. Merlis said.

Dr. Cohen was born in Baltimore, the son of Russian immigrants, and spent his early years in the old East Lombard Street Jewish neighborhood before moving with his family to Forest Park.

He was a 1951 graduate of Forest Park High School and earned a bachelor's degree in Semitic languages from Johns Hopkins in 1955. While at the Homewood campus, he worked with William F. Albright, director of the American School of Oriental Research at Hopkins, on the Dead Sea Scrolls that the professor had authenticated.

Dr. Cohen planned to be an agronomist and earned a master's degree and doctorate in crop genetics from the University of Maryland in 1962.

"He was going to move to Israel and practice crop genetics, but while he was doing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Michigan he became interested in human genetics," said his wife of 51 years, the former Barbara Milgrome, head of Judaic studies in the lower school at Krieger Schechter Day School.

In 1959, Dr. Cohen joined the U.S. Public Health Service and spent six years in genetic research at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda. He was subsequently director of cytogenetics at Buffalo Children's Hospital in Buffalo, N.Y., and in 1972 moved to Israel and established the department of human genetics at Hebrew University Medical School in Jerusalem.

After four years as director of cytogenetics at Children's Memorial Hospital in Chicago, he moved to Baltimore in 1982 in joining the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine with simultaneous appointments as professor of obstetrics and gynecology, and reproductive sciences and pediatrics and pathology. He also was chief of the Division of Human Genetics and had been acting director of the Maryland Biotechnology Institute.

"Dr. Cohen was a tremendously energetic leader who gave generously of his talent and time to the local and national genetics community," said Dr. Clair A. Francomano, director of adult genetics at the Harvey Institute.

Dr. Tonie Kline, director of pediatric genetics there, said, "His vast view of genetics and its importance and implications, combined with his extraordinary knowledge of all areas within medical genetics, made him an inspirational director."

"He was responsible for setting up a comprehensive genetic research facility at a community hospital [GBMC] - generally such centers are only found only at academic hospitals - and overseeing all patient care at the institute," said Karen R. Hanson, a genetic counselor at the center.

She added: "Dr. Cohen was a classic Renaissance man who could talk to you about the political situation in Israel, how the Terps were doing, and easily give you advice on putting your children to sleep. He was a great storyteller, and had a story for every occasion."

Dr. Cohen was instrumental in organizing the Breast Health Colloquium for Women in the Jewish Community, which has been presented at area synagogues.

Since 1998, he had been a member of the board of the GBMC Foundation. He was a past president of the American Society of Human Genetics and a past vice president for Clinical Laboratory Affairs of the American College of Medical Genetics.

In his personal life, Dr. Cohen had overcome kidney cancer and mycosis fungoides, a rare type of skin cancer.

"He had not retired and was still working from his bed in the intensive care unit," said a son, Dr. Neri M. Cohen of Owings Mills, chief of thoracic surgery at GBMC. "My father's spirit and soul live on in all the people whose lives he touched on so many levels. He reveled in the accomplishment of others."

Dr. Cohen was a member of Beth Am Synagogue and Chizuk Amuno Congregation.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. Sunday at Sol Levinson & Bros., 8900 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville.

Also surviving are two other sons, Dr. Akiva S. Cohen of Philadelphia and Dr. Noam A. Cohen of Bala Cynwyd, Pa.; two brothers, Vadie P. Cohen and Shlomo I. Cohen, both of Silver Spring; and four grandchildren.

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