Tuesday September 6, 2016

Panagiotis “Takis” Tsonis: 1953-2016

Panagiotis Antonios Tsonis, a University of Dayton biology professor and prominent researcher who earned nearly $6 million in federal research grant funding over the course of his career, died Saturday, Sept. 3. He was 63.

Known to faculty, staff and students as "Takis," Tsonis was director of the Center for Tissue Regeneration and Engineering at Dayton (TREND). He joined the University faculty in 1989, and also served as the Brother Leonard A. Mann, S.M. Chair in the Sciences from 2002 to 2006, when he became TREND director.

Tsonis was internationally recognized for his groundbreaking research in tissue regeneration, unlocking the processes that ultimately could enable humans to regrow tissue, organs and other parts of the body.

He studied tissue regeneration in the newt for more than 30 years with grant support from the National Institutes of Health, which ran from 1995-2015 and from 2007-2013. In all, he received nearly $6 million in research funding from the NIH, the Arthritis Foundation and the National Kidney Foundation.

He published more than 190 papers and two books, including landmark papers in Nature Communications this year and in 2011, which overturned more than 250 years of scientific thinking on the regenerative abilities of newts at all ages.

Khalid Lafdi, professor of chemical and materials engineering and the Wright Brothers Institute Endowed Chair, recalled Tsonis as a "genius scientist" who worked to improve people’s lives.

"Takis had a passion for regenerative medicine and, in particular, limb regeneration that will transform the lives of those who have suffered from such life-changing injuries,” Lafdi said. “His work on regeneration was a very significant scientific breakthrough."

Lafdi worked with Tsonis over the last 10 years to build a carbon nanoscaffold with a tailored atomic surface to assist in limb regeneration. He recalled his late colleague as a champion of the human cause, who campaigned for more collaborative research.

"Takis' loss is a major blow to UD and the research community as a whole," he said.

A native of Greece, Tsonis received his bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Patras, Greece, and his master's degree and doctorate from the Institute of Molecular Biology at Nagoya University in Japan.

He moved to the University of Dayton as an assistant professor in 1989 and became a full professor in 1997. He helped establish TREND in 2006 as an Ohio Center of Excellence in the field of biomedicine and health care. The center now has more than 20 researchers participating from six academic departments and the University’s Research Institute.

In his faculty profile, Tsonis said it is important to be a rigorous researcher and a good teacher.

"My goal is to establish a UD-based legacy in my scientific field that is recognized nationally and internationally," he said.

The College of Arts and Sciences and the department of biology are discussing how best to honor his memory and contributions in the areas of teaching and research.

"Takis was an inspiration," said Mark Nielsen, professor and chair of the department of biology. "The department's current research success was built around Takis' efforts and spirit; he was one of a very few scientists who could make research sing. I think many of us saw that his best days were ahead of him, which makes his passing all the more difficult. He will be sorely missed."

Tsonis leaves behind Katia Del Rio-Tsonis, his wife, research colleague and professor of biology at Miami University; and his daughters, Isidora '01 and Sol '16. The family asks for privacy at this time.

In accordance with his wishes, there will be no services, but Tsonis will be remembered during the University’s monthly memorial mass Oct. 12 at 12:30 p.m. in the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.

In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made in care of the department of biology to fund a yearly Panagiotis A. Tsonis Memorial Lecture to be held at the University to celebrate his life and scientific accomplishments.

- Dave Larsen, communication coordinator, College of Arts and Sciences

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