Nicholas Kefalides

Dr. Nicholas A. Kefalides, professor emeritus of medicine in the Perelman School of Medicine, passed away on December 6 from pulmonary fibrosis at age 86.

Beginning his career at Penn in 1970, Dr. Kefalides was a pioneer in the study of the extracellular matrix—components of the body that fill the space between structured cells. He identified three novel components of the matrix, including a new subtype of collagen, which he labeled Type IV.

Dr. Kefalides was born and raised in Greece. He lived through the invasion and occupation of Greece by German and Italian armies and survived a period in a concentration camp. He emigrated to the United States in 1947 and pursued a career in medicine and biochemistry.
He earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Augustana College in 1951 and both his master’s degree (in biochemistry) and medical degree from the University of Illinois in 1956.

In 1957, as a new physician at the University of Illinois, Dr. Kefalides was drafted into the US Public Health Service, for which he directed a research project in Lima, Peru on the treatment of burn patients. At the time, the US government was seeking to develop treatment plans for casualties in the event of nuclear war.

After returning to Chicago, he pursued studies that led to a doctorate in biochemistry while simultaneously completing his medical training in internal medicine and infectious diseases. He worked as an academic physician and scientist at the University of Chicago before coming to Penn.

In 1977, with the closure of Philadelphia General Hospital, Dr. Kefalides’ research labs moved to the University City Science Center. He was director of the Center’s Connective Tissue Research Institute and a principal investigator. When the institute closed in 2002, Dr. Kefalides became a mentor and consultant for the Science Center. He led an advisory committee and helped launch an interdisciplinary lecture series, “Lunch for Hungry Minds,” which still exists.

He became a professor emeritus in 1996.

In later years, Dr. Kefalides wrote two memoirs—Echoes From the Cobblestones and Finding Aesculapius Across the Atlantic. The volumes chronicle his childhood in Greece and his experiences pursuing his education, becoming a naturalized American citizen and starting a research career. A video of his presentation of his memoirs to the Penn Association of Senior and Emeritus Faculty (PASEF) in 2010 is online,

Dr. Kefalides had served on the boards of PASEF and ASEF (Association of Senior and Emeritus Faculty for faculty in the Perelman School of Medicine) and the University Club at Penn.

Dr. Kefalides is survived by his wife, Jane; daughter, Dr. Patricia Theodosopoulos, C’87, M’95 and son, Dr. Paul Kefalides, C’89, M’95; grandchildren, Alex, Effie and Eugenia; and his brother, Chris.

Memorial contributions may be made to the American Lung Association in Pennsylvania, National Processing Center, PO Box 7000,  Albert Lea, MN 56007-8000.

Memorial: A memorial for Dr. Nicholas A. Kefalides will be held on April 18 at 4 p.m. in the Austrian Auditorium in the Clinical Research Building. RSVP to Cordelia Biddle at (215) 573-7527 or (added March 31, 2014).