Farewell to Professor Mieczysław Chorąży

Katarzyna Lisowska, Zdzisław Krawczyk

Abstract


Professor Mieczysław Chorąży, one of the most eminent Polish biomedical scientists, died on February 20, 2021 at the age of 95. He was bid farewell with military honors at the Powązki Military Cemetary in Warsaw. He was buried close to his comrades in arms from the 1944 Warsaw Uprising. Mieczysław Chorąży was born in Janówka, a small village in Podlasie, in 1925. His education was interrupted by the outbreak of World War II which took away his mother, who died of typhus. He then decided to become a doctor. He was a member of the Home Army and fought in the Warsaw Uprising as soldier (nickname “Grom”) of the Baszta Regiment. In 1951 he graduated from the Medical Academy in Warsaw and was ordered to work at the then State Cancer Institute in Gliwice where he remained professionally active until the very end of his life. Following scientific internships at McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research in Madison and Sloan- Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York in the early sixties he developed a method for isolating metaphase chromosomes from murine lymphocytic leukemia cells, used in DNA uptake experiments. In the 70s, he studied repeating and unique DNA sequences, DNA transcription mechanisms, activity of RNA polymerases and inhibition of cancer cell replication. Together with Kazimierz Dux, he authored in 1973 the “Introduction to the biology of cancer”, which at the time was the most important work in the field in Polish scientific literature. Mieczysław Chorąży was an outstanding authority in the field of environmental mutagenesis and molecular epidemiology. The results of his research on DNA and chromosome damage in people from industry-polluted areas aroused wide interest worldwide. His Laboratory of Environmental Mutagenesis showed aberrations in metaphasal chromosomes caused by air pollution and correlated DNA adduct levels with concentration of polycyclic hydrocarbons in the air, including known carcinogens. Professor Chorąży research team revealed distinctive spectrum of mutations in the p53 suppressor gene among the inhabitants of Upper Silesia and characterized gene polymorphisms that determine individual sensitivity to carcinogens and functioning of DNA repair system. In his late years, Professor Mieczysław Chorąży was passionate about systems biology, research into chaos and early life on Earth. He was the supervisor of 18 doctoral theses, and five of his doctoral students later became professors. In the darker times of Poland’s national past, thanks to his wisdom and foresight, contacts were maintained with eminent researchers abroad allowing many Poles to pursue training in the USA, France, Germany and elsewhere. At the Professor’s initiative young scientists from the countries that emerged after the collapse of the USSR were able to continue their research in Gliwice thanks to scholarship awards granted by EACR and NCI-NIH. Mieczysław Chorąży was appointed professor in 1983. He was a doctor h.c. of medical universities in Katowice and Białystok. Since 1986 he was a full member of the Polish Academy of Sciences. Professor was also the member of Polish Academy of Arts and Sciences, American Association for Cancer Research, European Association for Cancer Research, Polish Biochemical Society, Polish Cancer Society (president 1974–1978), member of the scientific councils of Oncology Center in Warsaw, the Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy in Wrocław, the Institute of Human Genetics, Polish Academy of Sciences in Poznań and the Center for Polymer and Carbon Materials in Zabrze. In recognition of his scientific achievements and involvement in social and educational activities, insurgent struggle and shaping patriotic attitudes, Professor Mieczysław Chorąży received numerous distinctions and awards, including the Order of the White Eagle (2017), Polish supreme distinction. He was then eulogized as the “…nestor of oncology in Poland, outstanding scientist, founder of the Polish school of cancer biology, Warsaw insurgent, social activist, teacher and moral authority”. Professor received also the Lux ex Silesia award (2018) in recognition to his lasting contribution to the protection of Silesian cultural heritage. Professor Chorąży always opposed imprudent demolition of the reminders of industrial past of Upper Silesia, advocated sustainable development, and protecting green areas. Among various talents, Professor Chorąży was blessed with a gift of painting. Some of his watercolors and sketches embellish today the hall of the National Institute of Oncology in Gliwice. But Mieczysław Chorąży, the true man of virtue, will be perhaps best remembered for his kindness and concern for others, which brought him respect and love. He will be missed by very many people from all walks of life. Honor to His memory!

Keywords


Mieczysław Chorąży; cancer biology; molecular epidemiology; environmental mutagenesis; Warsaw Uprising; social activism; moral authority

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