Joseph B. Kirsner

Donor Stories

Philanthropy Extends Kirsner Tradition of Mentorship

Just before the University of Chicago's beloved Joseph Kirsner, MD, PhD, passed away in July, Seymour and Nancy Taxman made a commitment to honor his life's work. "Very few people have had an impact on me, or on the world, like Dr. Joseph Kirsner," said Seymour Taxman, CEO and founder of the Chicago-based Taxman Corporation. "He has helped thousands of patients in their personal battles against digestive disorders. He also has trained generations of experts in the field."

This is the story of Dr. Joe, as he was affectionately known, and how one man’s life inspires others.

In 1935, he arrived at the University of Chicago and began conducting his groundbreaking research that demonstrated the importance of diet to treating inflammatory bowel disease (IBD). During his time here, he also established the link between IBD and the immune system and genes, and showed the heightened risk patients with the condition face for developing colon cancer. In 1961, he and a collection of his grateful patients created the Gastro‐Intestinal Research Foundation. The foundation, now in its 51st year, still provides significant funds to support GI research.

Of note, Kirsner was one of the first physicians on the ground treating the liberated survivors of Nazi concentration camps in war-torn Europe. A few months later, he tended to prisoners of war in Japan. For decades, he was personal physician to King Hassan II of Morocco.

Compassionate care for the sick
Despite his many achievements, Kirsner prided himself on being available to patients at any time of the day or night, giving them his home phone number. But perhaps most importantly, he mentored generations of students who have gone on to serve as leaders in the field.

“We became known for our compassionate care of the sick” he once said. “Research is important but the combination of research and compassionate care is the best way. It still is the best way.”

The Taxman’s $2.5 million gift endows an annual fellowship in digestive diseases, in honor of Kirsner’s critical role as a mentor and teacher. The gift also supports an annual conference at the University, which recognizes Kirsner’s work as a physician, as well as the Gastrointestinal Faculty Reception Area in the Center for Care and Discovery, which commemorates Kirsner’s historic role in the growth of the University of Chicago Medicine.

“It is an honor for my wife and me to help extend his reach and continue this profound legacy,” Taxman said.