Elliott Lasser, MD, MS

In Memoriam

Elliot Lasser, MD MS, died peacefully in his sleep last week.  A short biography follows written by Dr. Meg Richman (faculty member at UCSD Radiology), the department he founded in 1968.  In our field of contrast agent research we know Elliot Lasser primarily for his research into the nature of adverse reactions to iodinated X-ray contrast media, a subject he pioneered and pursued with great vigor and creativity for decades. He founded a symposium called Contrast Media Research (CMR) in 1978 along with Harry Fischer, writing NIH grants to fund the early meetings and recruiting contrast agent manufacturers for further funding, with one of the meeting purposes being to allow industrial and academic scientists to communicate freely. CMR was unique then and still continues today on a biannual basis, and still contains both academic and industrial scientists and at least one session on the important subject of safety and mechanisms of adverse reactions. CMR also continues to present the Elliott Lasser Award for the best presentation at the symposium.  

During the last year of his life, he still exchanged emails and phone calls with me and others on the subject of contrast media safety and wanted to know if anything new had been presented at the CMR 2022 meeting. He was especially interested in mast cell inhibition of the tri-iodinated X-ray contrast agents, a mechanism he had conceived and first demonstrated.  Elliott was convinced that iodixanol could reduce lung and nasal damage by this mechanism if inhaled. (He had inhaled it for years to stop symptoms of his seasonal allergies. He said it worked extremely fast). When I was skeptical about extension of the concept to reducing viral load, he sent me, in December of 2022, a link to a JAMA OTO paper from 2021 that showed how povidone iodine reduced nasopharyngeal covid viral load. Elliott was full of ideas on the possible uses of iodixanol and even (in 2022) raised $30,000 for some animal experiments! When Elliott Lasser had an idea, he pursued it – when he was young, in his middle age, and even at 100 years old. There was no giving up on an idea he believed in. He was a research warrior to the end of his life, enjoying every minute of it, and an inspiration to us all. The world is better for his having lived in it. He will be greatly missed.  

Michael F. Tweedle, PhD
The Ohio State University, March 8, 2023


The following biography was wriiten by Dr. Meg (Katherine) Richman (UCSD Radiology) and is here published with her permission.

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of Dr. Elliott Lasser.  He died in his sleep at home on March 4th; he was 100 years old. 

Dr. Lasser attended Harvard for his undergraduate studies, earning dual degrees in Economics and Medicine in 1940.  He graduated from University of Buffalo Medical School in 1944.  Directly after graduating, he entered the United States Navy as a Lieutenant.  After serving 2 years in the Navy, he completed a radiology residency and cancer fellowship at University of Minnesota, under the tutelage of Dr. Leo Rigler. 

After a brief time in private practice, Dr. Lasser transitioned to academic radiology; he was so successful, that he became Chair of Radiology at University of Pittsburgh. 

UC San Diego opened its campus in 1968 and Dr. Lasser was invited to become UCSD’s first Chair of Radiology.   In creating the UCSD Department of Radiology, he recruited the finest faculty from across the country.  More importantly, he changed the trajectory of the new Medical School, convincing The Regents to make UCSD a four year accredited medical school.  They were unwilling at first, as there was no hospital on the medical school campus.  Dr. Lasser explained that the Hillcrest Hospital could serve as the hospital for the medical school until one could be built on the campus, setting UCSD on its course of excellence.

Dr. Lasser believed in the power of academics; he did clinical work, research and teaching, in addition to his Chair duties.  He and his wife Phyllis opened their home to the residents for Tuesday night board study sessions, showing cases and having lively discussions.

In addition, Dr. Lasser sought to fully understand all the tools and medications used in radiology.  At the time, there was no information on contrast.  In particular, no one understood how or why some people exhibited allergic reactions to intravenous contrast.  After 10 years of rigorous research, Dr. Lasser was the first to elucidate the chemical reactions and science behind the contrast reactions.  He published many articles, including the article considered by many to be the landmark scientific article on contrast.  In fact, the mechanisms he discovered were, from then on, referred to as “The Principle of Lasser.” 

Dr. Lasser discovered that contrast could be used to either cause or prevent mast cell activation.  He found that by using contrast to stabilize mast cells, he could prevent a range of undesirable medical conditions, including migraines, viral infections, the common cold, allergies, even COVID infection.  Even after his 100th birthday, Dr. Lasser did research every day to find more ways that contrast could help prevent illness and promote health.

Dr. George Scher, who was a resident from 1970-1974, wrote the following for Dr. Lasser’s 67th birthday  “Dr. Lasser, You had the foresight to bring with you men like Paul Friedman, Alan Simon, Lee Talner, Robert Berk and George Leopold. These physicians, as well as yourself, would go on to make significant contributions to the world of radiology in general and the San Diego medical community in specific.  As the years have passed, many of your residents have become well known in the academic community, the local San Diego radiology community and are now in practice throughout the United States, all a reflection of the great education that was inspired by their mentor, Elliot Lasser.”

Dr. Lasser was a wonderful person, a dedicated teacher, a marvelous friend.  We honor him for his creation of our world-renowned UCSD Department of Radiology, for his landmark contributions to radiological science, and for his caring demeanor and wonderful teaching that brought out the best in all around him.  He will be greatly missed.