October 13, 2023

Professor Emeritus David Kessel wins two medals in 2023 honoring distinguished career

In the world of photodynamic therapy, Wayne State University School of Medicine Professor David Kessel, Ph.D., could be considered an Olympian, having won two medals from two international organizations in recognition of his lifetime of career achievements.

David Kessel, Ph.D.

He received the Gold Medal Award at the 18th International Photodynamic Association World Congress, held July 10-15 in Tampere, Finland, and the Outstanding Contributions Medal from the European Society for Photobiology at its 20th Congress, held Aug. 27-31 in Lyon, France.

“This is an example of peer review. It is always encouraging to receive awards from people working in the same fields, since they are in a position to know what is important and what is not so important,” Dr. Kessel said.

A faculty member of the WSU School of Medicine Department of Pharmacology since 1974, he retired from regular research projects after the COVID-19 pandemic began, but still comments on research and reviews papers for journals. His work was continuously supported by the National Institutes of Health since 1980.

“Dr. David Kessel has a long-standing, stellar reputation at WSU, in the region, the U.S. and the world,” said Department of Pharmacology Chair and Professor Sokol Todi, Ph.D. “I knew of his work and accomplishments before I came to Wayne State and was thrilled to meet with him and to be his colleague in Pharmacology. David has been a fountain of important information for me regarding research and the university. His continued productivity in retirement is enviable and laudable.”

Dr. Kessel's many awards and honors from his multi-decade career are displayed.

Dr. Kessel had a simple answer when asked to reflect on the longevity and success of his career: “I was in the right place at the right time. Lately, it has become more difficult to get support for scientific research since funds are getting scarce and too many people are competing for less money. Promotion and tenure are more difficult processes as universities have more limited support for faculty.”

Photodynamic therapy, or PDT, is a process for selective treatment of cancer and certain other pathologic conditions involving topical or systemic administration of photosensitizing compounds that tend to localize in malignant tissues for reasons not entirely clear.

Dr. Kessel’s research group was the first to report that a critical target of PDT was the anti-apoptotic protein Bcl-2. It occurs when the photosensitizing agent is initially localized at sites where Bcl-2 is found: mitochondria or the endoplasmic reticulum, or ER. Loss of Bcl-2 function leads to apoptosis, an irreversible form of cell death. The more direct activation of apoptosis by PDT means that no cell can survive if sufficient drug and light are present.

Dr. Kessel earned his bachelor’s degree in Chemistry from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1952, a master’s degree in Chemistry from the University of Michigan in 1954 and a doctorate degree in Biochemistry from U of M in 1959. He completed postdoctoral training at Harvard Medical School from 1960 to 1964.

Dr. Kessel received the Distinguished Faculty Award in 1989-1990, WSU Academy of Scholars membership in 1990 and served as its president from 2009-2010, Dean’s Research Excellence Award in 1998 and 2014, Distinguished Graduate Faculty Award in 2000, the Thomas Dougherty Award for Excellence from the International Conference on Porphyrins and Phthalocyanines in 2008, Lifetime Achievement awards from the American Society of Photobiology in 2012 and International Photodynamic Association in 2017, and the Lawrence M. Weiner Award from the WSU School of Medicine in 2012.

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