David Cooper, surgery professor

David Y. Cooper III
David Y. Cooper III
Posted: August 15, 2013

David Y. Cooper III, 88, emeritus professor in the department of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania and a longtime surgical researcher, died Friday, Aug. 2, of cancer at Waverly Heights in Gladwyne.

A 1948 graduate of Penn's medical school, Dr. Cooper was widely known for his work on the cytochrome P-450, a series of enzymes involved in drug metabolism.

In layman's terms, Dr. Cooper was looking at how the enzymes acquired the ability to perform biological functions in the body, and why. The goal was to better understand how medicines break down once they are taken or administered.

Keenly interested in medical history, he was also coauthor of a history of Penn's medical school.

A native of Henderson, N.C., Dr. Cooper graduated from the Woodberry Forest School in Madison County, Va. He earned a bachelor's degree in medicine in 1946 from the University of North Carolina.

He entered medical school at Penn that year and earned a medical degree two years later. After graduating, he interned at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania for a year.

Dr. Cooper returned to active duty with the Navy Reserve in 1949 - he had served from 1943 to 1945 - and continued through 1952. Rising to the rank of lieutenant, he received an honorable discharge in 1958.

From 1953 to 1957, he was a resident in surgery at the Penn hospital while also serving as a resident and fellow at Penn's Harrison Department of Surgical Research. He earned board certification in surgery in 1959 and was appointed to the Harrison Department faculty.

Although he taught the graduate students who helped him, he focused on research. His contact with patients was minimal.

In 2004, he was named an emeritus professor and officially retired. He continued researching P-450 drug interactions at home, using molecular modeling software.

A longtime Penn supporter, Dr. Cooper was agent for the Medical Class of 1948 and a recipient of the Alumni Service Award.

Dr. Cooper published extensively in his field and, in the course of his work, designed a piece of lab equipment for use in complex studies of P-450.

One of Dr. Cooper's most notable contributions was Innovation and Tradition at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine: An Anecdotal Journey. Cowritten with Marshall A. Ledger in 1990, it was published by the University of Pennsylvania Press to coincide with the medical school's 225th anniversary.

Dr. Cooper found the effort surprisingly complex. "In addition to the many scientific contributions made by the faculty, the School of Medicine had a history that was richer and more distinguished than I, or anyone I talked with, realized," he wrote.

He belonged to the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Society of Chemists, the New York Academy of Science, and the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. He served on local and national committees, including those of the National Institute of Health.

In private life, he enjoyed building intricate models of sailing ships and exploring the Outer Banks of North Carolina with his camera. A resident of Bryn Mawr, he retired to Waverly Heights in 2005.

Surviving are his wife, the former Cynthia Laughlin; daughters Allison Cooper Hamilton and Lucy Cooper Karlsson; and four grandchildren.

Services and burial are private.

Contact Bonnie L. Cook at 610-313-8102 or bcook@phillynews.com.


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