A renowned physician-scientist, Stuart A. Kornfeld, MD, is the David C. and Betty Farrell Professor of Medicine at Washington University. Dr. Kornfeld is best known for developing the field of glycoprotein research—the study of how sugars attach to proteins and the roles these molecules play in how cells function.
Sugars attached to proteins serve as a kind of address label, ensuring that those proteins are delivered to a specific place in cells so those cells can go about their normal tasks. Defects in this system can cause a number of diseases. Dr. Kornfeld’s work led to new understandings of inherited disorders known as lysosomal storage diseases, including Gaucher disease, Pompe disease, mucolipidosis and Tay Sachs. Though the details are different in each disease, all lysosomal storage disorders include the damaging buildup of cellular waste. Severe forms of these diseases are often fatal.
Revealing the details of the packaging and transporting of lysosomal enzymes are among Dr. Kornfeld’s most well-known discoveries. Lysosomes are cellular structures that digest waste, such as cellular parts that are no longer useful. They also help eliminate bacteria and viruses.
While Dr. Kornfeld credits other labs for developing treatments for specific lysosomal storage disorders, those discoveries would not have been possible without his lab’s research into how important enzymes travel to the lysosome via what is called the mannose-6-phosphate pathway. Dr. Kornfeld and his colleagues detailed this pathway in a highly regarded set of papers published in the 1980s.
Over 50 years of research, Dr. Kornfeld’s lab has produced papers that have become classics in the field, including one—co-authored by his wife, collaborator and fellow Washington University glycobiology pioneer Rosalind Hauk Kornfeld—that has been cited more than 4,200 times and counting. The two led the glycoprotein field for decades, co-authoring many seminal papers before her death in 2007. The two met while he was in medical school and she was a doctoral student at Washington University.
In recognition of his outstanding contributions to medical research, Dr. Kornfeld has received numerous awards for his work, including the E.B. Wilson Medal from the American Society for Cell Biology, the Passano Award, the Karl Meyer Award from the Society for Glycobiology and the Kober Medal from the Association of American Physicians. Recipients of the Kober Medal, one of the highest honors in academic medicine, include 13 Nobel laureates.
Dr. Kornfeld is an elected member of the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Medicine and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He also is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the American Society of Biological Chemists, the American Society of Hematology and the Association of American Physicians. He is a foreign member of the Finnish Society of Sciences and Letters.
He also has been honored by Washington University with the Carl and Gerty Cori Faculty Achievement Award, the 2nd Century Award and a Distinguished Faculty Award. He has received lifetime achievement awards from the International Society for Alpha-Mannosidosis and Related Diseases and the Academy of Science of St. Louis.
A St. Louis native, Dr. Kornfeld attended Dartmouth College, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in zoology. He returned to St. Louis and earned his medical degree from Washington University School of Medicine in 1962.
After completing postgraduate training at what was then Barnes Hospital and later at the National Institutes of Health, Dr. Kornfeld joined the School of Medicine faculty in 1966. He is a hematology specialist at Barnes-Jewish Hospital, a professor of medicine in the Division of Hematology and a professor of biochemistry and molecular biophysics.
He has held numerous leadership positions at the School of Medicine over his career, including serving as director of the oncology and hematology divisions. He also has led the Medical Scientist Training Program at the School of Medicine and served as president of the Association of American Physicians during 1997–98.
Dr. Kornfeld has three children, six grandchildren and one great-grandson. All three children hold positions at Washington University: Katherine is director of foundation relations; Kerry is a professor of developmental biology at the medical school; and Carolyn (Lesorogol) is a professor at the Brown School.