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Obituary: J. Evan Sadler, director of hematology, 67

Renowned hematologist revealed the biology of bleeding, clotting disorders

December 13, 2018

Pioneering hematologist J. Evan Sadler, MD, PhD, a world-renowned expert in the study and treatment of blood clotting disorders and director of the Division of Hematology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018, at his home in Clayton, Mo., following a brief illness. He was 67.

Sadler, the Ira M. Lang Professor of Medicine, was also a professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics. His work helped reveal reasons why blood clots when it shouldn’t and why it fails to clot when it should. Such disorders lead to heart attacks, strokes and uncontrolled bleeding, which together cause more deaths annually in the United States than all types of cancer combined.

“Evan was a brilliant scientist who was among the first to apply the tools of recombinant DNA technology to the field of blood coagulation,” said Stuart Kornfeld, MD, the David C. and Betty Farrell Professor of Medicine. “This, combined with the high quality and great depth of his studies, propelled him to the top of his field. On a personal level, I have never met a more humble and fair-minded individual who was always striving for excellence. Evan was the perfect role model for the physician-scientist pathway.”

Sadler pioneered the study of proteins called von Willebrand factor and ADAMTS13, which play vital roles in orchestrating the events that lead blood to clot. His research led to a more detailed understanding of different types of von Willebrand disease — knowledge that improved diagnosis and treatment of this inherited bleeding disorder. Deficiency of the protein ADAMTS13 is the cause of a clotting disorder called thrombotic thrombocytopenic purpura (TTP), which causes blood to clot in small blood vessels, blocking proper blood flow to vital organs. Sadler’s work understanding the structure and function of this protein shed light on why ADAMTS13 is required for normal blood clotting. Based on his lab’s basic research, Sadler also led work to improve the clinical guidelines used to diagnose and treat these and other clotting and bleeding disorders.

“Evan had exceptional strengths as a division chief, physician-scientist, mentor and clinician,” said Victoria J. Fraser, MD, the Adolphus Busch Professor of Medicine and head of the Department of Medicine. “He was well-recognized as a critical thinker who was incredibly curious and deeply focused on answering the most difficult mechanistic questions related to hemostasis. His expertise in biochemistry was widely recognized locally, nationally and internationally.

“Evan’s even temperament and his extraordinary commitment to mentoring, collaboration and service distinguished him throughout his career,” she said. “He always put the needs of his faculty and trainees, the well-being of the hematology division, and the success of the department and institution above all else. He was the consummate servant leader. His commitment to science and the institution was only surpassed by his tremendous passion for his family. Dr. Sadler will be sorely missed in the department, but his legacy will live on in our hearts.”

Sadler joined the faculty of Washington University in 1984 and remained there his entire distinguished career. A longtime Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, Sadler was named director of the Division of Hematology in 2009 and was installed as the Ira M. Lang Professor of Medicine in 2014.

He received numerous awards and honors recognizing his outstanding contributions to the field of hematology. He was especially known for his pioneering research and his dedication to mentorship, including serving as a mentor to nearly 100 graduate students and postdocs, many of whom have gone on to become leaders in the field.

The American Society of Hematology (ASH) recently recognized his exceptional years of service and dedication to the society and to hematology with the 2018 Exemplary Service Award. Recognizing his outstanding contributions to hematology over his entire career, Sadler also received ASH’s Henry M. Stratton Medal for Basic Science in 2016 and the society’s William Dameshek Prize in 1998. He was also the recipient of the Robert P. Grant Medal, the highest award of the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis. He was a member of the National Academy of Medicine and a fellow of the American Heart Association and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

Sadler earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Princeton University in 1973. He continued his studies at Duke University, where he earned a doctorate in biochemistry in 1978 and a medical degree in 1979. After a postgraduate internship at Duke, Sadler completed his fellowship training at the University of Washington, Seattle.

He is survived by his wife, Linda J. Pike, PhD, the Alumni Endowed Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics at Washington University; daughter, Brooke E. Sadler, PhD; son, Evan D. Sadler, PhD.; his mother, Clara Rose Sadler; and two grandsons, Jasper and Dexter Haller.

Visitation will be held at Lupton Chapel at 7233 Delmar Blvd., University City, Mo., from 4 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 18. Private funeral services will be held the following morning.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to: Washington University in St. Louis, c/o Rachel Hartmann, Campus Box 1247, 7425 Forsyth Blvd., St. Louis, Mo. 63105-2126, to support the J. Evan Sadler, MD, PhD Award.