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Obituary: Joseph L. Roti Roti, emeritus professor of radiation oncology, 79

Noted researcher was director of cancer biology division

February 24, 2023

Joseph Lee Roti Roti, PhD, an emeritus professor of radiation oncology at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died Feb. 18, 2023, at his home in Highland, Ill. He had been dealing with kidney-related conditions and was 79.

Roti Roti joined the Washington University faculty in 1985 as chief of the cancer biology section and an associate professor of radiology at the School of Medicine’s Mallinckrodt Institute of Radiology. Two years later, he was promoted to professor. In 2001, he moved to the school’s newly established Department of Radiation Oncology, where he became director of the cancer biology division.

Roti Roti’s major areas of interest were the cellular response to ionizing radiation, cell-cycle progression, and the effects of heat shock and of radio-frequency radiation. Among his most noted research contributions, he showed that heat shock caused altered binding of nuclear proteins, inhibiting DNA repair and DNA replication. He also conducted what was believed at the time to be the most comprehensive single study of the potential effects of radiofrequency radiation from cellphones.

He remained at the university until 2010, when he retired and was named an emeritus professor of radiation oncology.

Roti Roti graduated from Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Mich., in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in physics. He went on to earn a PhD in biophysics in 1972 at the University of Rochester in Rochester, N.Y., and spent a year as postdoc in biochemistry at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Fla. Before he came to Washington University, he was on the radiology faculty at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City.

Among his honors, Roti Roti received a Distinguished Service Award in 2012 from the Radiation Research Society, and the J. Eugene Robinson Award from the Society for Thermal Medicine in 2006 for his contributions to hyperthermic oncology. He also was a member of the Phi Kappa Phi and Sigma Xi honor societies, and was a proud to have been inducted in 2000 into the Academy of Sciences and Arts at his alma mater, Michigan Tech.

In addition to his passion for research, he was a master naturalist and loved astronomy and photography.

He is survived by his wife, Patricia Roti Roti; his siblings, Anne (Thomas) Saal, Mary (Douglas Rogers) Roti Roti, Donna (Alan) Resetar, Elizabeth (Bill) Hendrick, and Jon (Marjorie) Roti Roti; his stepchildren, Meaghan (Chris) Meyer, James (Melissa) Gansmann, Lori (Dave Moreland) Gray, and Kelly (Ken Cope) Nessel; his grandchildren, Lauren and Taylor Gray, Sierra Nessel, Joey Gansmann, and Matthew, Patrick and Caroline Meyer; and several nieces, nephews, great-nieces and great-nephews. His first wife, Stephanie Pagano (nee Kestranek), died in 2006.

To celebrate his life, a gathering was scheduled for 12 to 3 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 25, at the Roti Roti Art Center of Buchanan, at 117 W. Front Street in Buchanan, Mich.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Roti Roti Art Center of Buchanan; Washington University School of Medicine; or Michigan Technological University.