Mountain climber, mentor, swimmer and world-renowned scientist, Dr. Beverly Torok-Storb, a pioneering stem cell biologist who worked at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center for 45 years, died Friday, May 5, at her home in Seattle. She was 75.
A professor in Fred Hutch’s Translational Science and Therapeutics Division, Torok-Storb’s contributions to science and to education in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM), were substantial and far-reaching.
"She was quite a force," said Fred Hutch Executive Vice President Fred Appelbaum, MD, who started working at the Hutch the same year as Torok-Storb. "She was a very good scientist and very committed to collaboration and training. She was also interested in the training of junior faculty and students including, importanly, individuals from underserved populations or those that are less represented in science."
Torok-Storb joined Fred Hutch in 1978 and during her tenure, pioneered lifesaving advances in stem cell research and transplantation biology, winning numerous awards and accolades. Her research had a profound impact on the bone marrow transplant field and helped to save the lives of thousands of people.
But she always had a passion for mentoring and creating career paths into science, especially for those who came from marginalized communities. Her legacy of advocating for education and training will continue through the research internship programs she established at Fred Hutch as well as the two training labs she launched.
In addition to her research contributions, Torok-Storb was the founder and director of Fred Hutch’s Summer High School Internship Program, or SHIP, in which students from diverse backgrounds spend eight weeks on the Fred Hutch campus before the beginning of their senior year, learning research techniques.
Torok-Storb started the internship program with four students in 2010. Eight years later, it accommodated 23, thanks to additional funding sources. To date, hundreds of students, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, have participated in the internship program, more than half of them girls. SHIP students have gone on to study at top universities and have been hired by organizations such as NASA, the National Institutes of Health, the Allen Institute for Brain Science and Fred Hutch.
Torok-Storb also created a SHIP offshoot called the Lead Intern Program, in which five to seven students return for a second summer internship after their senior year. Lead intern duties include assisting with new interns and, in the process, serving as role models and gaining valuable mentorship experience. In 2018, additional funding allowed the program — now known as the Pathways Undergraduate Research Program — to accommodate 22 interns.
Gretchen Johnson, who worked as a technician in Torok-Storb's lab for nearly 40 years, praised her mentorship and guidance.
“She was the best mentor anyone could have,” Johnson said. “She had high expectations for teamwork and quality science from her lab and was always there to help you achieve that, word by word, and slide by slide. She had these same passions and expectations for the summer high school interns.”
Even years after their internships, Torok-Storb continues to inspire students.
Jacob Greene, now a medical student at the University of California, San Francisco, was a 2016 SHIP intern and 2017 Lead Intern and Clinical Scholar. He vividly remembers learning about blood cell development from “Dr. Bev.”
“That summer went on to be the singularly most impactful summer of my life,” he said. “Dr. Bev and SHIP allowed me to dream it possible for a kid with cystic fibrosis to pursue a career in medicine. … I find the stem cell an appropriate analogy for Dr. Bev’s legacy: Her impact on the development of my life, and that of countless other students, is truly awe inspiring.”
Torok-Storb had energy and enthusiasm for science and for life itself – and was incredibly adept at sharing it with others. She left a great scientific legacy, but her legacy also includes the impact of her mentorship and passion for science education. Please help us honor her legacy with a gift to the Summer High School Internship Program.