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Lawyer Turned Stem Cell Advocate Susan Solomon Dies at 71

Her passion came from her son’s struggle with type 1 diabetes and the inability to find new treatments.

Lisa Winter
Lisa Winter

Lisa Winter became social media editor for The Scientist in 2017. In addition to her duties on social media platforms, she also pens obituaries for the website. She graduated from Arizona State University, where she studied genetics, cell, and developmental biology.

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Susan Solomon, cofounder of the New York Stem Cell Foundation, died on September 8 at age 71 after a years-long journey with ovarian cancer. Solomon, who had been a lawyer, became an advocate for biomedical research in response to health issues in her family. She went on to cofound one of the largest stem cell research nonprofits in the world.

Woman in beige jacket looking into the camera
Susan Solomon
New York Stem Cell Foundation

Solomon was born August 23, 1951 in Brooklyn, New York, to a record executive father and a pianist mother. She attended the Ethical Culture Fieldston School before marrying drummer Gary Hirsh, with whom she had one son before divorcing. She graduated from New York University with a history degree in 1975. Three years later, she obtained her law degree from Rutgers University before beginning a career that spanned several legal arenas, from workplace discrimination to corporate law to television programming. 

In 1980, she married Paul Goldberger. The pair had two sons. When their son Ben was nine years old, he was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes and required frequent blood sugar checks and insulin treatments. In speaking with experts, Solomon learned about stem cells and how they could hold the potential to cure not just diabetes, but other diseases and disorders as well. 

As the use of stem cells was politically fraught in the early 2000s, Solomon became increasingly frustrated with the federal government’s lack of support for the technology and imagined a way to change that, according to The New York Times. Fueled by her mother’s death from breast cancer and wanting a better way to treat her son’s diabetes, she envisioned an organization that would supply scientists with laboratory space, fellowships, and other supportive resources to drive research forward and expedite patient treatments.

In 2005, after a great deal of fundraising by Solomon, the New York Stem Cell Foundation (NYSCF) was born. Today, the foundation employs more than 40 scientists full-time, partners with some of the largest public and private organizations, and uses its $40 million annual budget to run numerous educational programs and a research institute that is applying the latest methods of stem cell research toward bone grafts, neurodegenerative diseases, cancers, and even COVID-19, according to the foundation’s website.

“Building NYSCF has been the privilege of a lifetime and I am incredibly proud of the contributions we have made to the field of stem cell research and developing new and more effective treatments and cures to improving the lives of patients,” Solomon told NYSCF staff as she resigned after 17 years as CEO just days before her death, according to a press release.

She is survived by her husband, three sons, three daughters-in-law, and six grandchildren.

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