Gary Glazer, pioneering leader in radiology at Stanford, dies at 61

- By Bruce Goldman

Gary Glazer

Gary Glazer

Gary Glazer, MD, former chair of the Stanford University School of Medicine Department of Radiology and a pioneering leader in the profession, died on Oct. 16 at Stanford Hospital after a long battle with prostate cancer. He was 61. During his career, Glazer not only developed novel research and clinical programs that introduced a multitude of technologies and practices into the field, but also personally advanced the use of lifesaving diagnostic imaging, especially for cancer.

An early investigator of both computed tomography and magnetic resonance imaging, Glazer is credited with developing standard imaging criteria for distinguishing liver and adrenal tumors, and for categorizing different stages of tumors in lung cancers — standards still in routine clinical use and critical to treating these diseases.

But Glazer’s contributions to radiology extended well beyond clinical research: His 20-plus years at the helm of the department were devoted to creating the infrastructure for what became under his leadership one of the world’s most sophisticated scientific-imaging centers. He was well-known for recruiting and supporting innovative researchers who used the technology available at Stanford to make important discoveries in both basic and clinical science. From 1989 through August of this year, when Glazer stepped down from the chairmanship, he moved the department not only to new heights of technological prowess but also toward a more patient-centered approach, said his colleague and friend of 21 years, radiology professor Gary Glover, PhD.

“Gary was a true visionary, who cared deeply about people and about basic as well as clinical science, and the marriage of the two,” said Glover, who directs the school’s Radiological Science Laboratory. “He was a true friend as well as a strong advocate for the development of all faculty members’ careers.”

Over the course of his career, Glazer, the Emma Pfeiffer Merner Professor in the Medical Sciences at Stanford, authored more than 155 scientific articles and three books. He was one of 21 radiologists ever to receive Gold Medal awards from both the Radiological Society of North America and the Association of University Radiologists. Among his many other national and international awards, he was given honorary membership in the French, Japanese and German radiological societies.

Under Glazer’s leadership, “the department became one of the most innovative and influential scientific-imaging centers in the United States and in the world,” said Hedvig Hricak, MD, PhD, chair of radiology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, who served as president of the Radiological Society of North America in 2009 when Glazer received that organization’s medal. “The Gold Medal is the highest honor the RSNA can give to a radiologist.”

Born in 1950 in Cleveland, Glazer was introduced to radiology as a child. “My father was one of the original pediatric radiologists in the world and a founding member of the Society of Pediatric Radiology, and my mother was a nurse, so health care was a topic of dinner-table conversations virtually every evening at my home,” he recalled in a 2009 interview. “My dad would tell remarkable stories about how he would use radiology to solve diagnostic puzzles, to rule out a disease or make a specific diagnosis that was unclear using other methods.”

Glazer earned his bachelor’s degree in cellular biology from the University of Michigan, graduating Phi Beta Kappa and moving on to Case Western Reserve University, where he received his medical degree and was elected to the Alpha Omega Alpha honorary society. He completed his internship, residency and fellowship training in diagnostic radiology at the University of California-San Francisco, serving briefly on the UCSF faculty before returning to the University of Michigan as an assistant professor. Within six years, he was a full professor of radiology, having already served as director of magnetic resonance imaging and body computed tomography and been recognized for many significant clinical research achievements. When he was 34, he was elected to the Society for Body Computed Tomography, which at the time had only 30 or so members worldwide.

In 1986, Stanford’s radiology department separated into two: a Department of Radiation Oncology and a more diagnosis-oriented Department of Radiology. Glazer was recruited to become chair of the latter. He arrived at Stanford in 1989 and immediately brought in two high-profile scientists: Glover, and professor of radiology and of bioengineering Norbert Pelc, ScD. Under Glazer’s watch, the department saw a number of key expansions, among them the completion of the Richard M. Lucas Center for Magnetic Resonance Spectroscopy and Imaging, in 1992; the designation of Stanford’s magnetic resonance activities as a National Institutes of Health National Research Resource, in 1995; the siting, at Stanford, of the first multidetector computed tomography facility outside of a factory environment, in 1998; the opening of a major addition to the Lucas Center, in 2005; and the designation of Stanford’s molecular imaging program as an NIH Center, also in 2005.

“Gary had an exceptional capacity to see new directions in which our field should go, even when that meant significant departures from the status quo,” said Pelc. “He used this intuition, as well as his ability to judge talent and his solid sense of right and wrong, to transform the department into the international leader it now is. Beyond his professional excellence, he was a wonderful person and a caring friend.”

A hallmark of Glazer’s leadership, according to colleagues, was the way he routinely praised and gave credit to faculty and staff for the numerous accomplishments achieved by the Department of Radiology.

“Gary worked relentlessly to build a great department by lobbying for significant resources from the hospitals, the medical school and from industry,” said Sam Gambhir, MD, PhD, the new chair of radiology at Stanford. “He was known for his great passion for the field, extremely strong negotiation skills, and for rarely giving up on any issue he championed. He would never take no for an answer.”

As chair, Glazer actively worked to move his department toward what he called patient-centered radiology. “Radiologists are often invisible to patients,” he said during the 2009 interview. “Patients never see them. This is suboptimal for the radiologist, who doesn’t have the full benefit of the interaction with the patient and of knowing what the problem is from the patient’s point of view. And it’s very suboptimal for patients, who experience a lot of anxiety while waiting for the results of their imaging studies.”

To correct this, Glazer oversaw the design of the Stanford Medicine Imaging Center, which was launched in 2008 in Palo Alto. This outpatient center was architecturally designed especially to promote radiologists’ interactions with patients.

Glazer was a self-described “football nut” as well as a devoted husband and father. He said that he often sought advice on professional as well as personal matters from his wife, Diane, whose expertise resides in a different set of waveforms: sound. She has master’s degrees in audiology and musicology. Glazer expressed pride in his sons, Daniel, who is keeping what is now a three-generation chain intact by becoming a radiologist, and David, a successful attorney.

“Gary loved his family deeply and was tremendously proud of their numerous accomplishments,” said radiology professor and associate chair Richard Barth, MD, who has been a friend of Glazer’s since their days as residents at UCSF. “He often began meetings with a highlight about family milestones before diving into the business at hand. He was equally caring to his friends and colleagues, never missing an opportunity to inquire with genuine interest about their personal well-being.”

Glazer, a Los Altos resident, is survived by his wife, Diane; sons David, of San Francisco, and Daniel and his wife, Jane, of Ann Arbor, Mich., and their two children, Jacob and Lilah. He is also survived by his mother, Miriam, and siblings Gale, Gwen, Greer, Ginger, Geoffrey and Greg.

“Diane in particular deserves our recognition and thanks for her support of departmental events, which included graciously inviting the entire department to the Glazer home for the annual house staff welcoming party, consistently one of the highlights in each academic year,” said associate department chair Ann Leung, MD, professor of radiology.

The funeral service will be held at 10 a.m. on Oct. 18 at Congregation Kol Emeth, 4175 Manuela Ave. in Palo Alto. An on-campus memorial service for friends and colleagues is being planned for a later date.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that donations be made to Stanford University Medical Center to support an international trainee exchange program in biomedical imaging in the Department of Radiology. Checks should be made payable to Stanford University Medical Center with a note indicating that they are in memory of Dr. Glazer. They should be mailed to: Stanford University Office of Gift Processing, P.O. Box 20466, Stanford, CA,  94309-0466.

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