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In Memoriam: Daniel Williams (1985-2015)



In Memoriam: Daniel Williams (1985-2015)


Daniel Williams, a graduate student at The Scripps Research Institute (TSRI), passed away August 21 of pancreatic cancer. He was 30.

“I would like to offer my heartfelt condolences to the Williams family,” said TSRI’s Acting President and CEO James Paulson. “We were touched by Daniel’s acceptance of his diagnosis and public announcement that he would dedicate his remaining time to cancer research. His courage and dedication set an example for us all.”

“Daniel’s passing is particularly difficult, as he was such a promising young scientist,” said Jamie Williamson, TSRI’s dean of graduate and postgraduate studies. “I don’t think we can help asking ourselves how we would measure up faced with such circumstances. Daniel lived his last days as a true scientist, studying the very disease he faced. There is such a stark contrast between the tragedy of his life shortened and the inspiration he provided. Life is short, and we need to make the most of it, both in the lab and in our personal lives.”

“Getting his PhD at TSRI was Dan’s great dream,” added Brunie Felding, a TSRI associate professor and Williams’ PhD advisor. “Without a doubt, he had all it takes to make this dream a reality. He was exceptionally gifted and had an outstanding sense of clarity to pinpoint the most pressing questions and identify approaches to address them.”

A San Diego native and an avid surfer and cyclist, Williams earned a BS degree with distinction in Cellular and Molecular Biology from San Diego State University (SDSU), where he received the Dean Herbert Peiffer Award for most influential male student in 2011. At SDSU, he also was founder/president of the Student Organization for Regenerative and Translational Medicine.

His early experience in the lab included working as a technician with the Genomics Institute of the Novartis Research Foundation (GNF) and as a research intern with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) Bridges to Stem Cell program with the SDSU Research Foundation. After graduation, he joined the Goldstein lab at the University of California, San Diego, as a staff research associate.

Williams began doctoral studies at TSRI in August 2013, rotating through the Baldwin lab before joining the Felding group to study tumor metastasis.

Soon after the cancer diagnosis, Williams began researching his own illness, using samples of his blood to create an antibody library and sequencing his and the cancer’s genomes.

“Facing his own diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer, Dan wrote fellowship applications to research this deadly disease,” said Felding. “He won recognition for his exemplary proposals. Going through chemo, we continued to discuss the latest science articles, and together we researched the newest clinical trial options. Dan’s exceptional kindness and spirit will stay with us and help guide our research for a better understanding and treatment of cancer.”

During his illness, Williams was a volunteer with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network (PanCAN), a nonprofit agency that supports research and aids patients and their families. He shared his story in a San Diego Channel 6 News interview to raise awareness of the deadly disease. He was also profiled in the U-T Community Press.

He is survived by his parents, Jane and Will Williams, and brother Jesse.

An olive tree will be planted on the Scripps California campus in his memory.

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