American Surgical Association Transactions

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1939 - 2019

Michael L. Steer, MD, 1939-2019

Dr. Michael L. Steer MD, one of the foremost surgeon-scientists in the field of pancreatic diseases and the cell biology of the pancreas, died April 18, 2019 of complications related to colon cancer.

Dr. Steer was born in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Esther and Arthur Steer. After undergraduate and medical school training at Duke University, and an internship at King County Hospital in Seattle, Mike served as a flight surgeon in the 3rd Armored Division in Hanau, Germany from 1965 to 1967. He subsequently began his surgical residency at the University of California, San Francisco, and then completed training at Boston's Beth Israel Hospital under Dr. William Silen.

Mike’s prolific career as a surgical investigator began in 1972 with a research fellowship at the Biophysics Department of the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel under Alex Levitzki. Initially interested in intracellular signaling systems, he soon pivoted to the regulation of intracellular membrane trafficking in the pancreatic acinar cell and the relationship of its dysregulation to the pathogenesis of experimental pancreatitis. His fruitful collaborations with Jacopo Meldolesi of Milan, as well as his long-time close colleague Ashok Saluja, led to critically important discoveries of relevance to the field of pancreatology. Mike’s lab was supported by the National Institutes of Health for many decades and included a prestigious MERIT award. He trained surgical investigators and basic scientists who in turn developed their own independent research laboratories. He was promoted to Professor of Surgery at Harvard Medical School in 1984 and remained on the faculty of the Beth Israel Hospital, later the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, until 2002.

An expert general surgeon with special emphasis on the pancreas, Mike was known as an outstanding teacher of residents and students. His contemplative intellectual style and sound clinical judgement led many to seek his counsel in the management of the most complex patients. Mike completed his academic career at Tufts New England Medical Center. Mike served as President of the American Pancreatic Association (1996) and was awarded for lifetime achievement by the American Pancreatic Association in 2013. His lifelong interest in global health became his focus in his retirement, when he became Director of Surgery with Partners in Health and the Program for Global Surgery and Social Change.

He was married to Vera Paz, whom he met while working on a kibbutz in Israel in the early 1970s for 47 years. Vera preceded him in death in 2014. He is survived by his children Dylan, Karen, and David Steer, his four grandchildren, Sienna, Talia, Olive, and Ella, and his younger brother Paul.