Officials at the Medical School are still trying to regroup after the November 29 suicide of Biochemistry-Biophysics Professor Manjusri Das. According to several department officials, the 44-year-old professor committed suicide by cyanide ingestion in her suburban Narberth home. Das had been a researcher and teacher at the University since 1978. Das' suicide shocked faculty, researchers, and graduate students within her department who said they saw little indication that she might take her life. During her time at the University, Das obtained equipment and organized a lab custom-designed for research on biological growth factors which play a role in the development of both normal and cancerous cells. Biochemistry-Biophysics professor Walter Englander, a close friend and collegue of Das who was a member of the search committee that brought her to the University, said that Das sent letters to the department and relatives the day of her death in which she requested that her research be continued and the lab and its equipment go to a young scientist entering the profession. "She wrote a letter in which she actually requested that be done, in which she worried about everyone," Englander said. "Everyone except herself." Collegues described her as a thoughtful educator and an outstanding scientist who may have become clinically depressed due to monetary pressures in her competitive area of research, despite adequate funding and a distinguished research career. "There was this bright future ahead of her," said Department Chairman Franz Matschinsky this week. "But in her mind it wasn't bright, it was dark." Matschinsky said the department was at a loss to adequately explain why Das might take her life, but said she held extremely high expectations for herself and may have become battle-weary in her quest for continued research funding. "There was some difficulty with one of her grants, but she had funding through 1992 so it wasn't a catastrophic situation," he said. At the University, Matschinsky said only members of her research group noticed a significant change in her behavior, which led them to insist on her visiting a psychiatrist. Englander said she did not visit the psychiatrist until the week of her death and never filled the doctor's prescription for an anti-depressant drug. "She was very devoted and kind of intense about her science," Englander said. "I mean she really, more than most people I know, was very centered on her science. She really thought about it." After her death, faculty and students conducted sessions to openly discuss her death. Professors in the department said they also were concerned about how the students would perceive the suicide of a successful researcher in the field. "As faculty, I guess that with the students you always think of science as a very pure profession," said Assistant Professor Barbara Hoffman-Liebermann. "There are tremendous amounts of stress that appear within the profession when you're involved in it." Department Chairperson Matschinsky said the researchers in Das' lab have been relocated to other labs at the University, and the equipment in her lab is being held until someone who conducts similar research is found. Das was not teaching any courses at the time of her death. A replacement delivered the guest lecture she was scheduled to give in the department's introductory graduate-level course, a class which she had directed for the previous three years. The department is compiling a memorial volume of her work, and plans a small department memorial ceremony for sometime later this year to present the book. Das is survived by a husband who lives and works in the Philadelphia area, as well as parents and two brothers in her homeland of India.Comments powered by Disqus
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