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Jaclyn M. Vidgoff ’62

The daughter of prominent Portland physician Dr. Benjamin Vidgoff ’29, Jaclyn graduated at the top of her class from Lincoln High School. At Reed, she wrote her thesis, “Synthesis of Dimaleimides,” with her advisor, Prof. Marshall Cronyn [chemistry 1952–89]. After graduating in 1962, she remained at the college for further study in chemotherapy, especially in the areas of cancer, malaria, and leprosy.

In 1970, she received a doctorate degree in biochemistry from the University of Washington. She did a postdoctoral fellowship in medical genetics at OHSU and then worked there as an instructor in genetics, followed by a gig as a biochemical geneticist at Portland’s Emanuel Hospital.

Focusing her research on birth defects, Jaclyn developed a test to determine if an unborn infant had Tay-Sachs disease, a recessive genetic disorder, meaning that when both parents are carriers, there is a 25% chance of giving birth to an affected child. A vital enzyme, hexosaminidase-A or hex-A, is missing or inactive in all of the tissues of the child. The disease progresses to the point the baby forgets how to smile, to grip a finger, raise its head, or kick. Finally, it loses the ability to swallow and cry. Death usually occurs within 18 months. The disease is associated with Ashkenazi Jews, whose chances of being a carrier are 1 in 30, versus 1 in 300 for Gentiles.

Jaclyn worked in immunology at the Red Cross (Portland) doing HIV and AIDS diagnoses. She later joined the faculty of the University of Illinois, where she taught pharmacology at the Urbana campus. After several years, she returned to Oregon to take up her research at the Oregon Primate Center until she retired. She is survived by her brother, Martin Vidgoff

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2018

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