U remembers late professor

James Tsai Yuan Wu, a professor in pathology at the U, passed away after spending 32 years researching tumor markers — the protein levels of cancer patients in remission that allow doctors to judge whether the cancer has returned.

Wu traveled to Taiwan in March to work at the Chang Gung Memorial Hospital, where he runs a research lab and consults with hospital personnel. As he was riding a bus back from the hospital in Taiwan, he sneezed and suffered a massive heart attack. Wu was rushed to a different hospital where he was pronounced dead on Mar. 20. He was 71-years old.

Family, friends and colleagues held a memorial service in his honor on Apr. 24. The family requested news of James Wu’s death to be held from the public until after the memorial to give them time to mourn. Members of the family left for Taiwan after Wu’s death to place his ashes at a Buddhist temple and conduct a private ceremony for family and close friends.

Ronald Weiss, president of ARUP, said Wu was a dedicated scientist and well respected by all of his colleagues.

“He helped develop many of the laboratory tests for use in patient care,” Weiss said. ?Wu published a great deal on research he did using multiple tumor markers to make cancer monitoring more accurate, including five books and 96 peer-reviewed articles. He also gave a number of presentations and served as medical director of the Special Chemistry lab with ARUP laboratories.

In Taiwan, Wu had been trying to create tests that would allow people to understand their overall health, said his daughter, Lena Wu.

“His dream was to come up with something important,” said Lena Wu, a bio-technologist in California. “He may not have created anything big with tumor markers, but he helped build the special chemistry lab, train scientists, and teach students — that’s a legacy in itself.”

Wu grew up in China during World War II. His parents never finished high school, but Wu moved to Taiwan 1948 and received an agricultural degree from Taiwan University. He later moved to the United States to finish his chemistry graduate work and completed a doctorate in biochemistry at the U in 1972.

He met his wife, Lily, at the U. James and Lily both worked at ARUP laboratories as medical directors until James retired approximately five years ago.

“My dad loved his work,” Lena Wu said. “But he always tried to make time for family.” Lena said she remembers playing tennis and basketball on the U campus on weekends. ?James Wu attended scientific lectures and meetings all across the United States and would take his family with him. “We always did fun stuff, but very rarely did we go on a family vacation only for fun,” his daughter said.

Sonia Christenson, a U alumna who worked with Wu in the Special Chemistry lab as a graduate student, said she remembers Wu as a kind man who taught her many things about tumor markers and editing her work in the lab.

“Dr. Wu taught me about leadership,” she said. “He suggested teambuilding exercises long before I ever had formal leadership training and heard that buzzword.”

Christenson spoke at the memorial and discussed how Wu had taught her how to celebrate diversity and would even take members of the lab out to play basketball.

“He was very charming and pleasant, and had a wonderful sense of humor — he would always make me laugh,” said Martha Fowles, lead administrative assistant for ARUP labs.

Lena Wu said her dad loved eating meat and cooked Chinese dishes whenever he could.

Colleagues at ARUP were shocked by the news of his death.

“I was very surprised,” said J.Alan Erickson, a research and development scientist for ARUP. “He seemed as healthy as ever before he left for Taiwan-never said anything about heart problems at all.”

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James Wu