University of Michigan
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August 18, 2019

Obituary: Kenneth W. Cochran

September 15, 2014

Obituary: Kenneth W. Cochran

Topic: Obituaries

Kenneth William Cochran, professor emeritus of epidemiology in the School of Public Health and associate professor emeritus of pharmacology in the School of Medicine, died in Ann Arbor on May 17.  He was 90.

Kenneth Cochran

With degrees in physiology (B.S., 1947) and pharmacology (Ph.D., 1950) from the University of Chicago, Cochran began his career as a research associate in that school’s Department of Pharmacology, Chemical Warfare Research Center, studying the biochemical effects of radiation and the toxicology and pharmacology of various rodenticides.

Two years later, he joined the U-M epidemiology faculty as a research associate. He was promoted to assistant professor in 1955, associate professor in 1961, and professor in 1969, with a joint appointment as associate professor in the Department of Pharmacology in 1977.  He was named professor emeritus in May 1989.

Cochran came to Michigan to join the laboratory of the legendary epidemiologist Dr. Thomas Francis Jr. Significant events in vaccine development were already taking place in the lab. Francis had developed an influenza vaccine and he was about to design and conduct the clinical field trials of Dr. Jonas Salk's polio vaccine involving 1.8 million children.  Cochran would later say in USA Today that it was an era “unique in American history.”

Cochran’s own research interests had involved the investigation of natural products derived from mushrooms as potential pharmaceutical agents with antiviral activity.  His interests then broadened to include the potential use of synthetic agents in the treatment or chemoprophylaxis of poliomyelitis and influenza. 

“It wasn’t coincidence that Ken’s early research focused on virus chemotherapy, particularly for polio,” recalls the Rev. Mary Jane Francis, who received her Ph.D. from the famed epidemiology department chaired by her father, Thomas Francis Jr. “Ken had had polio, and in later years was dealing with post-polio syndrome.”

Cochran was certified by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene (toxicology) in 1962 and by the American Board of Medical Microbiology (virology) in 1964.  He served with distinction as executive secretary for the North American Mycological Association and directed a national mushroom poisoning case registry.

Cochran is survived by his wife, Marti; son, Ken (Jean) Cochran, two grandchildren, and two great grandchildren.

— Submitted by Terri Mellow, School of Public Health