Marshall Alan Permutt, MD

by | Jun 21, 2012 | Obituaries

St. Louis, Mo.—M. Alan Permutt, MD, passed away Monday, June 11, 2012 at the age of 72 after a lengthy battle with cancer.

Once asked why he had so many books documenting the trials and tribulations of people attempting to reach the peaks of some of the world’s tallest mountains, Dr. Permutt replied that he enjoyed reading true stories about people overcoming great adversity.

While he never scaled a mountain himself, Dr. Permutt knew a thing or two about adversity. Diagnosed with juvenile diabetes as a teen, Dr. Permutt spent a lifetime managing a disease while becoming one of the nation’s leading diabetes researchers. Dr. Permutt was a professor of medicine and of cell biology and physiology, and the former director of the Diabetes Research and Training Center, at Washington University School of Medicine.

Born and raised in Birmingham, Alabama, Dr. Permutt was known for his enveloping warmth, outgoing personality, a laser-like scientific mind and dedication to his research.

He was as comfortable discussing the minutia of cell biology as he was explaining his preferred method for grilling barbecue ribs. He enjoyed taking in the St. Louis Symphony as much as watching a football game over a corned beef sandwich at Lester’s Sports Bar. His love for his children and grandchildren knew no bounds. He was a respected teacher and mentor to medical residents and lab partners. Many colleagues without family in St. Louis were welcomed into his home to celebrate holidays and enjoy his popular dinner parties.

Dr. Permutt was an avid cyclist and work-out devotee—aerobics and Spinning classes were his favorites—who rarely missed a day of exercise prior to his illness. In 2009 he received the Active Living Award from Trailnet for his “indomitable spirit” and passionate promotion of physical activity as a primary treatment for diabetes.

Dr. Permutt was an investigator or author for more than 200 publications on the genetic and physiological bases of diabetes, according to the medical database PubMed. He was a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator, and twice received the MERIT Status Award from the National Institute of Health, as well as several other distinguished awards relating to diabetes research. Last February, he received the prestigious Daniel P. Schuster Award for Distinguished Work in Clinical and Translational Science from the Washington University School of Medicine, among the highest honors the School of Medicine bestows on faculty.

One particularly significant contribution to medical science as the result of Dr. Permutt’s research team was the discovery of the Wolfram Syndrome gene in 1998. A rare genetic disorder that typically starts as Type 1 diabetes, the disease later deteriorates nerve cells in the eyes, ears and brain, usually resulting in death by age 30.

Years of lab work on Wolfram culminated in perhaps Dr. Permutt’s proudest professional achievement: two years into his cancer diagnosis, he was still able to bring together Wolfram Syndrome patients and their families for the first-ever multidisciplinary testing and assessment clinic in August 2010 in St. Louis.

The inaugural, and subsequent, groups of patients provided researchers with a significant amount of data to better understand the disease in the hopes of one day creating a treatment therapy. Because the disorder is so rare, it was the first time that Dr. Permutt and his researchers had actually met Wolfram patients.

Dr. Permutt was preceded in death by his son, Alex; his mother Marguerite and father James Permutt, his stepmother Alva Shevin Permutt and his brother Stuart Shevin.

Survivors include his daughters Joelle Permutt (Christopher Mumford) and Robin Winer (Todd), dear friend Rhea Oelbaum, grandchildren Abe, Eli, Benny and Alexi, sisters Patti (Jules) Wainger and Jan Shevin, and brother Maury Shevin.

A memorial service was held at Central Reform Congregation, 5020 Waterman Boulevard, St. Louis.

Donations can be made in Dr. Permutt’s memory to The Jack and J.T. Snow Scientific Research Foundation, 17703 Gardenview Place Court, Glencoe, MO, 63038, or via