Stanford Professor of Radiology Juergen Karl Willmann died in a car accident Monday. Willmann was 45 years old.
In addition to his role as a professor of radiology and body imaging, Willmann was a member of Bio-X, the interdisciplinary biosciences institute at Stanford. He was also a member of the Stanford Cancer Institute.
“He was as spectacular a person as he was a scientist. He just radiated this magnetism,” Brooke Jeffrey, a professor of radiology, told Stanford Medicine. “He was never arrogant, never showed hubris, and he was always interested in how you and your family were doing — it was a compassion that’s rare to find in someone who’s so accomplished.”
Willmann and his lab worked on a tool called targeted contrast microbubbles that helps detect tumors early on and direct drugs to treat them. His team was the first to use the microbubble technology in human clinical imaging trials, leveraging them to identify ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
On Tuesday, the Dean of Stanford School of Medicine sent an email to the medical school community on behalf of Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, Virginia And D.K. Ludwig Professor for Clinical Investigation in Cancer Research, informing community members of Willmann’s death.
“This is a tragic and devastating incident for which no words will suffice,” Gambhir wrote.
Gambhir included information on resources for anyone needing support, encouraging people to reach out to Healthy Steps or reference Stanford-provided resources. According to Gambhir, information regarding a memorial service will be provided soon.
“Juergen was very interested in early cancer detection because he understood the value of long-term research and how impactful early cancer detection could be to humanity when eventually successful,” Gambhir later told Stanford Medicine. “He was exceptionally intelligent, highly driven, supremely organized and a wonderful leader, mentor, father and husband. I could not be more proud of anyone who I have had the opportunity to work with and learn from.”
According to NBC, Willmann was involved in a single-car crash on Page Mill Road just outside of Palo Alto. He was unrestrained in the car and driving east when he lost control of his car and collided with a tree in the median between Coyote Hill Road and Deer Creek Road.
According to California Highway Patrol (CHP) spokesman Officer Art Montiel, the car crash occurred in the afternoon, just before 12:25 p.m., and responders pronounced Willmann dead on the scene. CHP is currently investigating the incident further.
Before coming to Stanford, Willmann was educated and trained in Europe. He attended Albert Ludwig University of Freiburg in Germany and completed his medical internship at the University Medical Center Freiburg and his residency at University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland.
Willmann left Switzerland to pursue a research fellowship at Stanford, where he joined Gambhir’s lab working on imaging and cancer detection. After the fellowship ended in 2008, Willmann moved to the U.S. for good as an assistant professor at Stanford and in 2015 was promoted to professor. He remained at the University despite attempts by European universities to recruit him, attracted by the “strong, fruitful research collaborations” he had at Stanford, according to Stanford Medicine.
Within the radiology department, Willmann also took on the roles of clinical division chief of body imaging and executive vice chair of strategy, outreach and clinical trials.
In 2017, the Academy for Radiology & Biomedical Imaging Research awarded him its Distinguished Investigator Award.
“Though his life was tragically cut short, Dr. Willmann had already made extraordinary contributions to his field and touched countless lives through his warmth, leadership and compassion,” School of Medicine Dean Lloyd Minor told Stanford Medicine. “His death is a profound loss for the entire Stanford Medicine community.”
Contact Sarah Wishingrad at swishing ‘at’ stanford.edu.
This post has been updated with information from an article published by Stanford Medicine.