In Loving Memory of

Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, MD, PhD

November 23, 1962 – July 18, 2020​

Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, MD, PhD

This mosaic photo of Sanjiv Sam Gambhir contains over 2500 photos from Sandip Biswal’s collection from Stanford Radiology events. He collaborated with Ted Graves who wrote a program to create this beautiful image that represents the many lives Sam has touched.

Message from Stanford Radiology

July 18, 2020

Dear Radiology Family,

It is with profound sadness that we announce the passing of Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, our Chair of Radiology at Stanford University School of Medicine. Sam joined the Stanford faculty in 2003, and became chair of the Department of Radiology in 2011. A leader in the fields of molecular imaging and early cancer detection, as well as in academic medicine in general, Sam’s scientific accolades have few equals.

Sam’s storied professional career is only matched by his love and devotion to his family: his wife Aruna Gambhir, and his son, Milan who passed away in 2015 at the age of 16. Sam and Aruna together supported one another and were indefatigable in mind and spirit through Milan’s cancer battle.

In his chair role, Sam was regarded by all as a brilliant scientist, a groundbreaking clinician, and a true leader who was unafraid to make tough decisions. At the same time, Sam had an immeasurable capacity to be empathetic to each circumstance and person. Sam gave selflessly of himself in a way that was profound and genuine. He garnered the respect of his faculty, staff, trainees, other departmental chairs, the Dean’s Office, and the University.

With a combination of engaged intensity and reassuring wisdom, Sam cut through problems at all levels with clarity and insight. Sam commanded the room by his perceptiveness, his surprising quick and self-deprecating sense of humor, and the honesty and transparency of his message. When you were with him, Sam saw and heard you and made you feel important.

Sam brought the best out of everyone. He was demanding most of all of himself, and of everyone around him. Not only did he push himself harder than anyone else, he pushed people for whom he had the highest expectations. If he was pushing you, he was investing in your success. He had the incredible gift to focus on people; to make them want to become the best versions of themselves.

Sam Gambhir’s departure from this world leaves us with deep sorrow yet profound gratitude that he made a vast impact on the world of science and humanity, to our school and department, and to us as individuals. It is difficult to put into words the sense of loss that we all feel at this time. Like many others with such impact and potential, Sam’s departure was too soon. We will all miss him dearly.

We will come together in the coming days to mourn Sam’s passing and share feelings and memories. Plans for a memorial ceremony will also be communicated soon. In the meantime, our thoughts and prayers remain with Aruna and all of the extended Gambhir family.

Sincerely,
Garry Gold
David Larson
Yun-Ting Yeh

A Little About Sam's Legacy

Below is a video honoring Sam, that was shown at the ceremony awarding him the Stanford School of Medicine's Dean's Medal, July 17, 2020

Video from Tedx Talk
2012

Video from SNMMI Benedict Cassen Prize 2018 (introduced at 33:00)

Video from SNMMI Cassen Prize Interview 2018

Celebration of Life

Memorial service via Livestream
Friday, August 14, 2020
9:00am - 10:00am PDT

Gambhir Family

Sam, Milan and Aruna in Panama in December 2009

In Lieu of Flowers

Gifts in Memory of Dr. Sam Gambhir 

Thank you for your interest in making a gift to honor and remember Sanjiv Sam Gambhir, MD, PhD. The information below will provide you with a few details and options.

In lieu of flowers, the Gambhir family prefers donations to one of the areas listed below. The first three programs are at Stanford Medicine.

  • The Canary Center for Cancer Early Detection at Stanford (https://canarycenter.stanford.edu/)
    The Canary Center at Stanford’s mission is to discover and implement minimally invasive diagnostic and imaging strategies for the detection and prognostication of cancers at early, curable stages. The Canary Center is the first in the world to integrate research on both in vivo and in vitro diagnostics to deliver these tests, by housing state-of-the-art facilities and collaborative research programs in molecular imaging, proteomics, chemistry, cell and molecular biology and bioinformatics.
  • The PHIND Center at Stanford (https://med.stanford.edu/phind.html)
    The Precision Health and Integrated Diagnostics Center (PHIND) at Stanford is dedicated to longitudinal monitoring and improvement of overall human health on a lifelong basis. Currently, the field of healthcare is primarily focused on late-stage disease including treatments applied relatively late with suboptimal health outcomes. However, continued Stanford advancements in biology and technology are leading to the potential to understand disease risk, detect disease early and enable preventative interventions. This center aims to fundamentally revolutionize healthcare leading to better and more productive lives for individuals.
  • The Sanjiv Sam Gambhir Professorship in Translational Medicine at Stanford
    This is a permanent endowed professorship at the School of Medicine established in honor of Dr. Gambhir to support a faculty member conducting translational research in the Department of Radiology.
  • The Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation (http://ivyfoundation.org/)
    This is a separate non-profit that has the long-term goal to cure brain cancer. To donate online, go to the website and scroll down until you see the word DONATE. Click on the box and follow the instructions.

How to Make a Gift to Stanford

To donate online to any of the first three areas listed above (Canary, PHIND, Professorship):

Please go to Stanford’s medical giving website here (or https://medicalgiving.stanford.edu/) and click Make A Gift. Complete the online giving form, specifying where you want to designate your gift and that your gift is in memory of Dr. Sam Gambhir.

To donate by check:

Please make your check payable to “Stanford University.” Include a note specifying where you want to designate your gift and that it is in memory of Dr. Sam Gambhir. Be sure to mention whether you would like us to send Dr. Gambhir’s family a notification letter. Stanford will not share the amount of the donation. Mail your gift to:

  Stanford University
    Development Services
    P.O. Box 20466
    Stanford, CA 94309-0466

To donate stock or give by wire transfer:

If you wish to contribute stock or make a gift via wire transfer, please click here for instructions.

For questions, or if you would like to discuss your gift with a member of the development team, please contact Erik Rausch at erausch@stanford.edu or Susan Schwartzwald at susanss@stanford.edu in the office of Medical Center Development.

Share Your Thoughts

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34 entries.
Judy Yee wrote on August 7, 2020:
Through our shared grief of Sam's passing, we must find the joy that he has left for medicine, research, and humanity. His impact is truly unique and his legacy will continue in everyone whose lives he has touched so profoundly. His kind, nurturing and generous spirit will live on. His brilliant science has inspired many and continues on in his memory to help save the lives of many others. He may be gone but he will not be forgotten.
European Society for Moecular Imaging wrote on August 3, 2020:
We are so sad to hear about the passing of Sanjiv Sam Gambhir.
He was not only one of the founding fathers of the field we all have the privilege to work in, a pioneer and visionary, but also a mentor and inspiration for so many of us - both science-based and personal. Thanks so much, Sam!
Our deepest sympathy goes out to his wife and family.
Lilian Leong wrote on July 30, 2020:
For years, I had admired Sam’s outstanding work, his innovations in molecular imaging, his leadership in academic development and his contributions to global medical education and research. I had also attended his presentations frequently during RSNA from which I gained a lot of knowledge and insights. I am totally amazed at his vision and immense impact in the field. I was therefore absolutely delighted and excited to meet him in person and to talk to him when first introduced to him during one of the Stanford receptions. Despite being very busy, Sam was very gracious and truly interested in a visitor from Hong Kong whom he met for the first time. He was very warm and pleasant and made me felt welcome. I treasured all the inspirational encountering during all those opportunities.

The passing of Sam, the giant in the fields of molecular imaging, cancer research, the leader of scientific and medical development, is a great loss to our field and to the world. But his works and legacy will live on and he will be fondly missed. May I extend my deepest condolences to his family.

Lilian Leong
Founding President, Hong Kong College of Radiologists
David Cheng wrote on July 29, 2020:
I choose to remember Sam from our bachelor days in graduate school. We were idealistic and full of energy. On the morning of Sam's dissertation defense, there were about 6-8 fellow students reminiscing our experiences in the program. Sam was wearing a suit, and he pulled out a stack of dollar bills. He proceeded to bribe each of us with a dollar bill if we refrain from asking questions at his defense. When he got to me, I told him that I have several questions in mind. The reaction on his face was priceless, as he did not know how to respond immediately. No one took his money, of course, but it was a perfect comic relief Sam needed. The rest, as they say, is history. Success comes with demands on our time and tough tasks, and very few of us handled them as well as Sam. He will surely be missed for decades to come.
Meera Iyer and Prasad Kodukulla wrote on July 28, 2020:
We are devastated to hear of Sam’s passing. Our deepest condolences to Aruna and the Gambhir family.

I first met Sam at UCLA in 1995 through Prasad (who was a post-doc in the Barrio lab) - Sam had received his first NIH grant for imaging reporter gene expression using PET and was excited about building his lab in the Crump Institute for Molecular Imaging (CIMI). I had the privilege to work with Sam for over a decade - we started out in the basement and saw the lab grow from 3 to 20+ staff in less than four years and then it grew some more. I also got to know Sam during this time (he had not started working over 80 hours per week) - I admired his tireless work ethic and laser focus to take forward his vision for molecular imaging to take its place as an indispensable, key tool in the armamentarium for early cancer detection. I vividly remember Sam’s excitement and joy on the first set of successful imaging experiments and his drive to get the data published ASAP - this was the first publication from the Gambhir lab laying the foundation for in vivo reporter gene imaging using PET (J Nuc Med, 1998). Now to the >80 hours/week schedule - “I live on Oxygen” Sam said. The lab members would get a cake for his birthday each year and we would wait outside his office. Sam had a grant deadline and could not be disturbed (happened every year). Sam would open his office door to take a break and then see us waiting. He was surprised and happy, the cake cutting was brief, and he would return to his office and go on to work till late hours. Though it was a relentlessly busy time in the lab, we were family and have fond memories of our time together in the Gambhir lab. All this seems like it happened yesterday.

I am grateful to Sam for giving me an opportunity to work with him at CIMI and the over 10 years I spent in Sam’s lab were the best 10 years in my entire professional career. Sam was so exceptionally gifted, so relentlessly passionate, so incredibly brave, and above all, so generously human - he always, always had time for “you" - a grad student, post-doc, research staff, clinical resident, personal assistant, or a stranger who walked into his office and requested a few mins of his time.

C'est la vie. I miss you, Dr. G - Rest in Peace.
Shahriar Yaghoubi wrote on July 27, 2020:
Beloved teacher, mentor, friend, scientist, physician, leader, and role model, you have departed too soon, but will forever be remembered. Few have I known who achieved more in a lifetime, whose legacy are enormous discoveries and inventions that will continue their positive impact on the lives of many patients for many years to come and mentoring of hundreds of students, postdocs, scientists and faculty. My professor Gambhir, I admired and looked up to you since the first day you started teaching me in 1996. I am grateful to you for training me as a graduate student in Pharmacology and Postdoc in Radiology. For 20 years you inspired everything I discovered and your voice is behind everything I present. Your passing is a devastating loss, but your life is a huge celebration. We, your students, will always love you and will carry on your legacy.
James Harris wrote on July 26, 2020:
I first met Sam when one of his early PhD students was in Electrical Engineering and needed an EE Associate Advisor. It was certainly my good fortune that I fit the bill. Over the next couple of years, we met quarterly and began conversations that included my research. From his physics background, he truly understood exactly what I and my students had been doing in photonics the past 35 years and how this might be applied to new wearable or home medical systems for early cancer detection. These conversations changed the focus of my research dramatically over the past 12 years as he convinced me that one of the new frontiers was continuous, non-invasive testing and my technological expertise could pay a key role.

Sam was the co-Advisor for 5 of my PhD students and I for 3 of his students and postdocs. He also has had a profound effect on my personal life. We did not have biohazard certification and the ability to test blood and urine in my labs, so my students were doing all their characterization in Sam's labs either in Clark or the Canary Center. Six years ago, I saw all the posters about the Canary Challenge and Sam knew I rode my bike to the lab and meetings over at the Canary Center and he challenged me to ride. When I found that the ride was 50Km—32 Mi—I said I’ve never ridden more than 20 Mi in my life, I’m 72 years old and had both hips replaced. Sam said, I’m sure you can do it.

When I started the ride, I wasn’t sure I would make it, but Sam was at the start line and assured me he was confident that I would be successful. Crossing the finish line was such an exhilarating experience of personal triumph and for a cause that I truly believed in, that I committed to ride every year thereafter that I was physically able. In the following 4 years, I raised over $60,000 and rode faster each year than the year before. Unfortunately, they discontinued the ride 2 years ago, but that love of distance cycling that Sam ignited in me has remained. I’ve cycled 16.5 Mi all but 3 days since March 1–2300 Mi, literally a ride across the country during lockdown. I am incredibly grateful to Sam for convincing me to make a huge career change to almost “start over” at age 65 and to know and see the excitement and stimulation our collaborations created for these students and postdocs.

Finally, with our isolation, I think I would have gone crazy without the incredible mental and physical outlet cycling provides me. I will remember this as a lasting gift from Sam for the rest of my life. He had an amazing way of challenging, building confidence and totally supporting students in their research and I in cycling to achieve your highest aspirations. He inspired and brought out the best in everyone with whom he worked. A most amazing man. He was almost exactly 20 years younger than I and it’s still hard to wrap my mind around the fact he is no longer with us.
Dennis Brown and Judy Schwimmer wrote on July 25, 2020:
Every 100 years, a special comet comes and lights up the sky. It is a phenomenon that you will only see once in a lifetime. Sam was like a special comet, producing light, and impact, touching the lives of everyone who came into contact with him. Life is brief – we are only here for a cosmic minute – and Sam used his minute to inspire and support so many. We are blessed to have been in his presence. In life, you come in with nothing, and you leave with nothing; it is not what you have, but what you do, your heart, and the light of positivity. Sam did so much.
Chandra Bodapati wrote on July 25, 2020:
Dr Gambhir, a pioneer in medical imaging passed away this week. He was a brilliant scientist and fantastic mentor.

I learned & grew a lot by just being in the weekly orbit of this genius for the past 25+ years.

He mentored my children all through their lives, and they both founded startups in pioneering medical technologies. He was the single largest source of their research expertise.

Dr Gambhir’s inventions and those of hundreds of scientists he mentored will help millions of people live longer cancer free lives.

Sanjiv is our family hero and my brother in-law.
David L. Keller, MD wrote on July 25, 2020:
I shared an office in the basement of UCLA Medical Center with Sam the year he finished his PhD. I was impressed by the many long hours he spent working at his desk, always wearing headphones and listening to rock music. Many times, he was visited at his desk by Indian undergraduate students seeking advice, and Sam always welcomed them and spoke with them for as long as they needed, despite the fact that every hour spent counselling them would require him to work that much later at the office that night. Sam received no pay or official recognition for these many hours of emotional support and academic counselling he provided these students, many of whom were complete strangers to him, having been sent to him by word of mouth. Later, I found out that Sam was born into the Brahmin or priestly Hindu caste, so I guess helping people came naturally to him. That year, Sam's advice was quite helpful to me as well, with important professional and personal decisions, despite his being several years younger than me! Rest in peace, Sam, you did a lot of good while you were on this earth.
Alexander Norbash wrote on July 24, 2020:
Our grief is profound.
I am grateful for the privilege of living to witness a soul and such depth of character as Sam possessed. His alloy was a singular composition of genuine kindness, limitless integrity, and intellectual brilliance, all in infinite and equal portions. We will never see another like him. We will all cherish his memory. We received a unique gift, and tomorrow we will never be quite the same.
Bill Loo wrote on July 23, 2020:
I had the privilege of first collaborating with Sam about 18 years ago when I was a resident in Radiation Oncology at Stanford with an interest in molecular imaging research, writing one of the first clinical trials in my career. Sam was still at UCLA in the process of making the transition to Stanford, yet graciously offered his time, expertise, and mentorship when I reached out to him to lay the groundwork for the study. I believe this must have been one of the earliest Stanford collaborations for both him and me, paving the way for many others. In all the years since then, Sam’s brilliance, prodigious scientific accomplishments, far-reaching vision, and strategic thinking, but also his passion and kindness have been an inspiration and model which I have aspired to emulate in just a small way as a physician-scientist faculty at Stanford. Sam exemplifies all the best aspects of being at Stanford, and I will always count it a blessing to have known and worked with him.
Joy Morimoto wrote on July 23, 2020:
Sam epitomized the very best of humanity. It was an honor and a pleasure to work with him over the past 15 years. He was unwavering in his vision and dedication, and that passion was beyond inspiring. Sam was always accessible, gracious, appreciative, attentive, humble, and so genuine. He was the consummate faculty partner in his work with donors. I’ll never forget a visit and walking tour that was absolutely masterful in which he not only explained but showed a donor how research progresses from the bench to the bedside and back again. He left the world far too soon but his impact is indelible. My heartfelt condolences and aloha to Aruna and the family.
Sheen-Woo (Sheena) Lee wrote on July 23, 2020:
As one of the old MIPS members in Korea, I convey that we are deeply in mourning. What more to be said, since so may posts echo how Sam touched our lives, made us the better part of ourselves, and treated each like family. May he rest in peace.
Aihua Fu wrote on July 23, 2020:
I am deeply saddened by the loss of Sam, a great leader, visionary and mentor. Many years ago while working on the CCNE project, one evening before the annual meeting and site visit, another postdoc and I were discussing and finalizing a couple slides, Sam walked up to us and said: “Take it easy, the pressure should be on me.” The simple sentence reflected his true caring personality --- he was always willing to take on all the responsibilities upon his shoulder creating spaces where people can innovate for the cure for cancer. Sam, we are carrying on with your vision in precision oncology and precision health. Hopefully for no long, our liquid biopsy testing technology will be applied by doctors to better detect and treat cancer patients. Wish you peace in heaven.
Christiana Ajawara-McIntosh wrote on July 23, 2020:
Dr. G was the most amazing man. As his administrative assistant for 4 years, I was blessed to work very closely with him. As I watched him save lives, he changed my life for the better. Challenging me to think differently and encouraging me every time I excelled. His words helped me get through nursing school and will continue to guide me in life. “Batman”- you will be truly missed and loved for eternity.
Shreyas and Minal Vasanawala wrote on July 22, 2020:
Sam was a tremendous leader, mentor, colleague and friend. He inspired and trained both of us as residents. It has been a tremendous honor to have worked with and for him ever since, and to see up close how much he has accomplished in so many fields. We will miss him dearly.
Ted Graves wrote on July 22, 2020:
I first met Sam at the SMI meeting in Boston in 2002, where he chaired a session in which I spoke. I still remember the gentle grilling I got about fluorescence tomography. Not long after I called him to say I was thinking about taking a job at Stanford. He told me excitedly about this "MIPS" program he was going to create and how he wanted me to be involved. In the 17 years since then he has been a constant source of support, guidance, and friendship. I treasure the many memories I have of scientific and personal interactions with him, and strive to continue on in the trail he has blazed.
Hossein Jadvar wrote on July 22, 2020:
Sam was my mentor, friend and colleague. He was greater than life with deep intellect, contagious generosity, and remarkable humility. The entire scientific community and indeed humanity itself lost a glorious soul. I feel privileged to have known and worked with Sam over the years. I recall the day vividly when I introduced him to a full standing room only audience thirsty for his lecture upon him receiving the first SNMMI Peter ValK MD Memorial Award during the SNMMI Annual Meeting in Baltimore in 2015. With tearful eyes, my heartfelt condolences to his wife and family, to all the nuclear medicine and molecular imaging community, and to my alma mater Stanford Radiology.
Jennifer McNab wrote on July 22, 2020:
It is such an honour to have had the opportunity to be a Radiology faculty member under Sam’s leadership. I admire him for his ambitious longterm visions, strategic thinking, thoughtful decision making, his dedication to his work, his efforts to promote inclusivity and his genuine care and concern for everyone within the department. Sam was always highly responsive when I reached out to him with any questions or concerns. I remember conversations with him where he really pushed me to pitch him on various research ideas as a way to help me be more effective at communicating the significance of the research to others. When a graduate student in my group was in the hospital, I remember him taking the time to check in on the grad student and their family. I also remember having my 1 year old son on my lap at a department event and Sam sitting behind us and entertaining my son with funny faces and other shenanigans. Sam impacted so many people’s lives and a part of him will live on in each of us.

Stanford University School of Medicine | Department of Radiology