NIH Mourns the Passing of Dr. Herbert M. Geller
The IRP community is saddened by the recent passing of our esteemed colleague, Herb Geller, Ph.D., who died April 16, 2023, at the NIH Clinical Center from complications of advanced prostate cancer. He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Nancy Geller, Ph.D., who is the Director of the Office of Biostatistics Research at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Dr. Geller joined the National Institutes of Health in 2001, where he became the Chief of the Developmental Neurobiology Laboratory in the Cell and Developmental Biology Center at NHLBI. During his long and successful career in neurobiology, Dr. Geller made a significant impact on the field of neuroscience. His laboratory focuses on understanding the role of the extracellular matrix — the intricate network of molecules that surround cells which control migration, pathfinding, and growth of neurons during brain development.
Specifically, Dr. Geller’s research group focuses on proteins in the extracellular matrix known as proteoglycans. He was the first to pinpoint a specific protein sequence pattern on a proteoglycan which could serve as a potential therapy for spinal cord injury using a drug that targets this sequence. His lab also helped identify new neuronal receptors for proteoglycans and published over 150 articles on how proteoglycans provide extracellular signals that could improve recovery of function following brain injury.
Dr. Geller was born in New York and received his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from Case Western Reserve University. He followed with a postdoctoral fellowship in Physiology at the University of Rochester. After many years as a Professor of Pharmacology and Neurology at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey, he joined NIH.
IRP senior investigator Clare Waterman, Ph.D., Director of NHLBI’s Cell Biology and Physiology Center, summed up Dr. Geller’s influence at NIH. “He was kind, dedicated, caring, and brilliant and will be warmly remembered by NHLBI for his amazing service to all our trainees over the years, mentoring them and launching them on amazing scientific careers, and for his dogged pursuit of an important question in neurobiology: proteoglycans,” she says.
Along with his scientific role at NIH, Dr. Geller also served as the Director of the Office of Education in NHLBI’s Division of Intramural Research (DIR) from 2001-2019, during which he dedicated his time to promoting the success of all NHLBI scientists, both as trainees and as mentors of trainees. He was deeply committed to improving the representation of underrepresented groups, including minorities, women, and scientists with disabilities in the mainstream of basic and clinical research, and championed the NHLBI DIR’s outreach program with high schools in Prince George’s County.
Dr. Geller’s commitment to training the next generation of researchers at NIH cannot be overstated. He was critical in bringing NHLBI fellows together from siloed labs to become a cohesive cohort. Other specific contributions included the Fellows Committee, K22 support, the Fellows Retreat, the Sit-Down with Scientific Director, and the Lenfant Fellowship Program.
Craig Pearson, Ph.D., a former graduate fellow in Dr. Geller’s lab, fondly remembers his influence. “Dr. Geller was a model of scientific curiosity, skepticism, and persistence,” Dr. Pearson says. “He showed me that in science, nothing is ever neat or perfect, and I learned to view results with his careful and attentive eye. He was an advocate for his students, trainees, and staff, and was a generous spirit, always looking out for those who were marginalized or left behind.”
Dr. Geller’s attitude throughout his battle with cancer was incredibly positive, so much so that few around him were even aware he was ill, continuing his research endeavors at NIH until just a few weeks before his passing. He will be dearly missed by his NHLBI and NIH family.
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This page was last updated on Tuesday, May 23, 2023