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Obituary: Jeffrey F. Moley, professor of surgery, cancer researcher, 64

'Masterful surgeon’ advanced treatments for thyroid cancer

by Kristina SauerweinOctober 18, 2017

Jeffrey Fletcher Moley, MD, a highly regarded professor of surgery and chief of the Section of Endocrine and Oncologic Surgery at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died Sunday, Oct. 15, 2017, at his home in Kirkwood. He was 64.

Moley, also an associate director at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine, died following a sudden cardiac event. He had been married for 30 years to Kelle H. Moley, MD, the university’s James P. Crane Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

“Jeff was a world-class surgeon and a pioneering researcher,” said David H. Perlmutter, MD, executive vice chancellor for medical affairs and dean of the School of Medicine. “He was admired by faculty here and across the globe and was a role model to younger faculty and trainees.”

For more than two decades, Moley was a pioneer in researching and treating Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia (MEN), rare inherited syndromes that often cause an aggressive form of thyroid cancer and other endocrine diseases, particularly in those at young ages.

Along with Samuel Wells Jr., MD, former head of the university’s Department of Surgery, Moley was part of a team that identified the genetic mutations responsible for MEN syndromes and advanced a preventive procedure that includes surgical removal of the thyroid gland. Moley also operated on patients with recurrent thyroid cancer and other endocrine diseases.

Such high-stakes surgeries require meticulous technique. A 2002 article in Outlook magazine described the procedure: “The adult thyroid gland, located in the lower part of the neck just above the windpipe, has two lobes the size of walnuts; its four neighboring parathyroid glands are no bigger than grains of rice. In children, all these glands are almost unimaginably small.”

“Jeff was a masterful surgeon,” said Timothy J. Eberlein, MD, the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Distinguished Professor and head of the Department of Surgery. “He delicately performed surgery to remove the thyroid gland in young children — some only a few months old — who were destined to develop an inherited form of thyroid cancer. The margin of error in these procedures is almost none, and Jeff was simply remarkable.

“At the opposite end of the spectrum, he performed exceedingly difficult surgeries in patients with recurrent thyroid tumors as well as other cancers,” said Eberlein, who is also director of Siteman Cancer Center and surgeon-in-chief at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “He was uniformly admired nationally and internationally for his surgical skills.”

Moley’s research also helped to identify novel molecular targets in thyroid cancer. He developed and led clinical trials of systemic targeted therapy for thyroid cancer.

Besides treating patients at Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children’s hospitals, Moley worked for more than three decades for the VA St. Louis Health Care System. Most recently, he served as head of surgical services.

At each of the hospitals, Moley helped train residents and medical students. Sometimes he invited them to his home for meals. “They loved him,” Eberlein said. “He was gentle, kind and encouraging in their training.”

Moley’s grandfather, Raymond Moley, was a member of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “Brain Trust,” a group of advisers who helped shape policies of the New Deal. Moley’s father, Malcolm Moley, MD, became a surgeon, whose footsteps his son followed. Born in New York City in 1953, Jeffrey Moley earned his bachelor’s degree from Harvard University in 1976 and medical degree from Columbia University in 1980.

He completed his internship and residency, and was chief resident in general surgery, at Yale New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Conn. Additionally, he worked as a medical staff fellow in the surgery branch of the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

After a year as an instructor in surgery at Yale University School of Medicine, Moley joined, in 1988, the faculty at Washington University, where he ascended the ranks.

Moley maintained a lifelong interest in history and politics. He also enjoyed sports and music. A jazz guitarist, mandolin player and vocalist, he led the Fletcher Moley Group, a local jazz and rhythm & blues band, and previously performed with Seldom Home, a bluegrass band.

In addition to his wife, Moley is survived by: three sons, Patrick, Charles and John; his mother, Janis Walton Moley; a sister, Janis McCarthy; and a brother, Roger Moley.

A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 19, at Grace Episcopal Church, 514 E. Argonne Drive, Kirkwood, Mo.

Memorial contributions may be made to ThyCa: Thyroid Cancer Survivors’ Association or AMEND, the Association for Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia Disorders.