Kenneth Sterling, Thyroid Expert, Dead at 74

Kenneth Sterling, an internationally known and nationally recognized expert in thyroid diseases, died at home on Thurs., Jan. 12, in Riverdale, N.Y. He was 74 years old.

Sterling was clinical professor of medicine at Columbia's College of Physicians & Surgeons and a staff physician in nuclear medicine and director of the protein research laboratory, Department of Veterans' Affairs Medical Center, Bronx, N.Y.

The probable cause of death was complications of an aneurysm, a family member said.

Sterling was one of the major investigators of cellular action of thyroid hormones. He was one of the first to use radioactive iodine in the therapy of thyroid diseases. Sterling discovered that the body converts thyroxine, one of the major thyroid hormones, to triiodothyronine, which is the principally active form of thyroid hormone. This finding spawned a new field of investigation and knowledge of how thyroid hormones affect metabolism and led to seminal studies on the mechanism of the action of thyroid hormones.

In the early years he did the major work on the metabolism of human serum proteins utilizing radioisotopic labels and also developed a method for radioisotopic labeling of human red cells. This development allowed life span and volume of human red cells to be accurately measured in many diseases for the first time. His method is still used in laboratories today.

In 1972 Sterling was given the William S. Middleton Award for Excellence in Research, the VA Medical Center's highest honor. He is remembered by his peers as an expert clinical thyroidologist who regularly participated in the thyroid clinic at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center. He treated patients there just days before his death.

Sterling joined the Columbia faculty in 1958 as a research associate. In 1962 he was appointed assistant clinical professor medicine and also joined the staff of VA Medical Center as director of the protein research laboratory. In 1970 he became associate clinical professor of medicine at Columbia and rose to clinical professor in 1974.

Sterling was born in Baltimore, Md. He received his undergraduate degree from Harvard in 1940, where he was a classmate of John F. Kennedy. He earned his medical degree from Johns Hopkins in 1943.

He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Ruth Sterling, and a daughter, Donna.

Columbia University Record -- February 10, 1995 -- Vol. 20, No. 16