Samuel S.C. Yen, M.D., D.Sc., an international figure in the field of reproductive endocrinology, professor emeritus and former chair of the Department of Reproductive Medicine at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine, passed away in La Jolla, California on December 26. He was 79 years old.
"Sam Yen was a legendary figure in reproductive endocrinology,” said David Bailey, M.D., UCSD Interim Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences and Dean of the School of Medicine. “His extraordinary research and training of future leaders in American reproductive medicine are his legacy. He will be sorely missed by countless faculty, trainees, students and staff."
“His work had monumental impact on the development of therapy for infertile women and on our basic understanding of a woman’s reproductive system,” said Thomas R. Moore, M.D. professor and chair of the UCSD Department of Reproductive Medicine. “His advances in these important fields are the underpinning of successful treatments available today.”
Yen's pioneering work in the area of neuroendocrine regulation of the menstrual cycle has provided many insights into problems such as infertility, premenstrual syndrome and menopause. Information gleaned from his 450 published research studies and 40 book chapters was compiled in “Reproductive Endocrinology,” one of the most comprehensive and authoritative books in the field.
Known for unraveling the complex systems involved in controlling the female reproductive cycle, Yen focused on interactions and disorders of the brain-pituitary-ovarian mechanism, and the effects of reproductive hormones on metabolism. He led several studies evaluating the effectiveness of treatments for endometriosis and uterine fibroid tumors, including work with Nobel Laureate Roger Guillemin, M.D., Ph.D., of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in La Jolla, whose discovery of LH-releasing hormones evolved into a close working collaboration with Yen on the hormone’s biological effects on patients.
“Sam was a unique collaborator for all the early, in fact the first, clinical studies with these new molecules we were isolating from the brain,” said Guillemin. “He was also the most demanding for the ethical ways in conducting these studies.”
Born into a medical family in Peking, China, Yen grew up during the Japanese occupation of China, during which he escaped Peking to the country’s interior on foot, a journey which took weeks. He reached Chungking, where he was accepted into the Chee-Loo University as a pre-med student. As a very young man, he flew C-47 supply planes for the Chinese National Airline Company (CNAC) over the Himalayan Mountains to assist the Flying Tigers. He was a member of the HUMP Pilots Association, recognizing the pilots who risked their lives flying over the Himalayas. He later escaped the Communist takeover of China by hiding in a pirate boat bound for Taiwan.
Yen then continued his education at the Medical School at the University of Hong Kong, followed by a residency at Queen Mary Hospital there. After a residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital, he served as chief of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Guam Memorial Hospital, then as a fellow at Harvard Medical School. Professorships at Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals of Cleveland preceded his arrival at UCSD in 1970, where he held several prestigious positions, including chair of the Department of Reproductive Medicine, chief of the Division of Reproductive Endocrinology, and holder of the W.R. Persons Endowed Chair in Reproductive Medicine. At UCSD, his internationally lauded discoveries shed light on such diverse issues as the timing of menopause, causes of infertility and delayed puberty, and the interaction of female hormones on blood pressure and diabetes. He retired from UCSD in 2000.
Yen’s many awards and honors included the Rhône-Poulenc Rorer Clinical Investigator Award by the Endocrine Society, and the Distinguished Achievement Award by the American Fertility Society. More recently, he was honored with the Simpson Medal by the University of Edinburgh. He was a member of the Institute of Medicine and the National Academy of Science, and published more than 400 articles in publications including the Lancet, Nature, the New England Journal of Medicine and Science.
His affinity for the artistic was most notably manifested in his commissioning of Kendrick Bangs Kellogg to build his home on a La Jolla, California canyonside, a study in site-specific organic architecture featured in HGTV’s “Extreme Homes.”
He is survived by daughters Carol Millen, Dolores Hickman, Margaret Yen Johnson, granddaughter Cameron Hickman, former wife Kathryn Yen and sons-in-law Scott Millen and Eric Johnson.
Memorial services will be held Saturday, January 6, at 2 p.m. at El Camino Memorial Park in Sorrento Valley, 5600 Carroll Canyon Road, San Diego, CA 92121. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests a donation to the March of Dimes in memory of Dr. Yen.
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