In Memoriam: William R. Brinkley: Mitosis Pioneer and Biomedical Research Advocate

It is with regret that we inform you that William (“Bill”) Brinkley passed away on November 10, 2020, at the age of 84. Bill was a past president of ASCB (1979–1980). He was dean of the Graduate School and vice president at Baylor College of Medicine. Bill was a widely respected scientist who made many important contributions to the mitosis field. He was one of the first to describe the ultrastructure of the kinetochore and to discover that it functions as a microtubule organizing center. Moreover, using the then newly developed method of indirect immunofluorescence, he found that tubulin was organized as a cytoplasmic microtubule array in interphase that was transformed into the mitotic spindle during M-phase. In 2014 he was awarded the E.B. Wilson Medal, the highest scientific award from the ASCB.

In addition, Bill was a passionate advocate for biomedical research through his outstanding activities in public policy. As but one of many examples, he was instrumental in the doubling of the National Institutes of Health budget (1999–2003). Two decades earlier, Bill had founded the ASCB Legislative Alert Committee, the first nationwide science advocacy group. Subsequently, soon after the establishment of the ASCB Public Policy Committee Bill served as its chair (1990–1992).

Besides serving as ASCB president, Bill was elected president of the International Federation for Cell Biology; the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology; and the Academy of Medicine, Engineering, and Science of Texas. He was the founder and first chair of the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC) Graduate Research Education and Training Group, providing a national forum to discuss issues of biomedical graduate education. He also served the biomedical research community in numerous other ways. Bill was a member of the Institute of Medicine (now the National Academy of Medicine).

Further details about his illustrious career can be found in two recent in memoriam articles that also contain some delightful anecdotes.1,2


1Garrison HH, Masters BS, Bond J (2021). William R. Brinkley (1936-2020). FASEB BioAdvances 3 (4): 280–281. DOI: 10.1096/fba.2021-00034.

2Gerbi SA, Palazzo RE, Earnshaw WC, Schrader WT (2021). William R. Brinkley: A giant in biomedical research and public policy. J. Cell Biol. 220, e202106102. DOI: 10.1083/jcb.202106102.

About the Author:

Susan A. Gerbi is the George Eggleston Professor of Biochemistry at Brown University.