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July 10, 2017

Remembering Patricia Keely: Scientist, mentor, friend and inspiration

Written By: Staff


It would be understandable for a cancer patient to want to wipe from memory the time they spent in hospitals during treatment. In the case of Dr. Patti Keely, however, her personal cancer diagnosis transformed into experiential learning opportunities that inspired her to dive deeper in search of a cure for the disease.

“I became very interested in cancer as a biological problem that really needs to be solved,” Keely said in a 2013 video. “ I’ve become more motivated now to make our cancer research be relevant directly to helping patients out and going beyond the basic biological questions to try to come up with either diagnostics or hopefully a cure […] that will help people out.”

Patricia Keely

Keely, who served as a faculty member at UW-Madison for 18 years, died June 24, 2017, of advanced pancreatic cancer. She was 54.

In addition to her dedication to bridging the gap between people’s real-life problems and the results from the laboratory, Keely also exemplified the collaborative, interdisciplinary research environment in the College of Engineering. Beyond her affiliate appointment within the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Keely’s research (most recently into the role of the cellular microenvironment in the behavior of breast cancer cells) was relevant in innumerable medical research institutions on campus: Keely acted as chair and Jan and Kathryn Ver Hagen professor of translational research for the Department of Cell and Regenerative Biology in the School of Medicine and Public Health, principal investigator and founder of the Keely Lab in the Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research, co-principal investigator at the Laboratory for Optical and Computational Instrumentation, and co-leader of the Tumor Microenvironment Group at the UW Carbone Cancer Center.

“You set out thinking you know where you’re going and you end up somewhere else,” Keely smiled, in the same 2013 video.

All who knew her will remember her. “She leaves behind a remarkable legacy as an outstanding scientist, dedicated mentor, strong academic, leader, and caring and committed person,” says Dr. Robert Golden, dean of the School of Medicine and Public Health.

Read Keely’s obituary, published June 28 by the School of Medicine and Public Health, here.

A memorial service for Keely was held July 10 at The Pyle Center, 702 Langdon St., Madison. A fund has been set up in her name, and donations can be made online through the University of Wisconsin Foundation.