In Memoriam — Keith Parker, chief of endocrinology

Dr. Keith Parker, chief of endocrinology, director of the Jean D. Wilson Center for Biomedical Research and holder of the J.D. and Maggie E. Wilson Distinguished Chair in Biomedical Research, died of a myocardial infarction Dec. 13. He was 54.


The son of physician scientists, Dr. Parker attended Williams College in Williamstown, Mass., and earned his M.D. and Ph.D. degrees at Washington University in St. Louis. He then trained in internal medicine at UT Southwestern before moving to Harvard University to study molecular genetics. There he pursued his interest in steroid hormone synthesis, which he developed during his stellar career.

In 1986 Duke University recruited Dr. Parker to its department of medicine, where he served as an investigator for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. While at Duke, he discovered steroidogenic factor-1 (SF-1), a master regulator of steroid biosynthesis and an essential gene for the formation of the adrenal glands and the gonads.

Dr. Richard Auchus, professor of internal medicine, said Dr. Parker’s SF-1 discovery was a seminal moment in the field.

“If you went to the meetings in the years afterward, virtually half the talks included something about SF-1,” he said. “The day of his memorial service, I did a literature search on it, and there were more than 1,000 papers on SF-1 — and its discovery was just 15 years ago.”

Dr. Parker returned to the medical center in June 1997 to become chief of endocrinology. During his time on the faculty, he taught, conducted research and served as an administrator and editor.

“He took over the endocrinology curriculum for the medical students and basically completely rewrote it,” Dr. Auchus said. “He went through every single handout and came back with corrections. He redid the figures that were out of date. He was planning to give all the lectures this year.”

Dr. Parker earned numerous awards throughout his distinguished career, including the Endocrine Society’s Ernst Oppenheimer Award in 1996, the Society for Endocrinology’s Transatlantic Medal in 2004, the University of Bologna’s University Seal in 2006, and election to the American Society for Clinical Investigation. Dr. Parker also published more than 150 scientific papers and served as an editor of Goodman and Gilman’s The Pharmacologic Basis of Therapeutics, the leading pharmacology textbook.

Despite the accolades, Dr. Parker’s family remained his top priority.

“He would barbecue on the weekends and take his kids to Colorado in the summer,” Dr. Auchus said. “He never pushed his family aside for his career.”