Obituary for John S. Greenspan, AAOM Diplomate

Professor John S. Greenspan Passes Away at Age 85

Professor John S. Greenspan died on 31 March 2023 at age 85 years. He was an academic dentist-scientist, pathologist, and accomplished administrator who over the course of a 60-year career in the US and UK made sustained and a significant international impact in numerous fields. 

John was born in London in 1938 and completed his early education at the Royal Liberty School, Essex, and at Hendon County School, Hendon, England. He furthered his education at the Royal Dental Hospital, earning a Bachelor of Dental Surgery (BDS) degree and a First Class BSc in Anatomy at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine. He went on to earn a Ph.D. at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School and subsequently trained at St George's Hospital School of Medicine, qualifying as a pathologist with an FRC-Path. In 1976 he relocated with his family from the UK to the San Francisco Bay area, taking a position at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF). Working with his wife Deborah Greenspan, he is well known for research identifying the oral condition “hairy leukoplakia” early in the AIDS pandemic and identified a connection between the condition and the Epstein–Barr virus (EBV). 

John held numerous administrative positions at UCSF, including Chair of the Department of Stomatology (now called Orofacial Sciences), Associate Dean for Research, Associate Dean for Global Oral Health, and Director of UCSF AIDS Research Institute. He established the UCSF AIDS Specimen Bank in 1982, and together with Dr. Deborah Greenspan pioneered the concept of training nurses and physicians on the diagnosis of oral mucosal diseases associated with HIV and AIDS; this led to successful collaborations with multiple principal investigators who recruited cohorts of men and women with HIV infection to better understand the natural history of the disease, including its oral features.

John was awarded one of the first National Institute for Dental and Craniofacial Research (NIDCR)-sponsored Program Projects to study oral HIV disease and establish the Oral AIDS Center; he led this for 20 years. He was also the founding co-Principal Investigator, with Dr. Troy Daniels, of the NIDCR-funded Sjögren’s International Collaborative Clinical Alliance (SICCA), which is currently the largest biorepository and data registry for Sjögren’s disease in the world.

John has been the recipient of over $70 million in research grants and contract funding from Federal, State, and industry agencies during his 42-year tenure at UCSF.  He published over 300 papers and four books on oral aspects of AIDS, oral pathology, and immunopathology. He was an internationally renowned scientist and a much sought-after speaker at many international meetings.

John Greenspan was a Member of the US National Academy of Medicine and in 1990 was awarded the honorary degree of ScD by Georgetown University. He was an associate editor or board member of several journals and was a founding editor of the Journal Of Oral Diseases. John was the Burroughs-Wellcome Professor of the UK Royal Society of Medicine, and in 2010 he earned the Distinguished Scientist Award recipient of the American Association for Dental Research (AADR). In 2012 he was awarded the American Dental Association’s Gold Medal for Excellence in Dental Research, and in 2014 John was a recipient of the fourth annual Faculty Research Lecture in Translational Science, awarded by the UCSF Academic Senate.  So many healthcare providers have benefited from his dedicated mentorship over the years.  He has supervised/mentored over 120 physicians/scientists, dentists/scientists, and Ph.D. scientists in all aspects of oral pathology and medicine, AIDS/HIV, global oral health, and related topics. John was an exceptional visionary who had a keen understanding of the importance of team science and interdisciplinary collaboration. John’s extraordinary emotional intelligence, encyclopedic knowledge, scientific curiosity, and generosity opened the doors to many junior investigators.

John is survived by his beloved wife Deborah, two children, Nick and Louise, and four grandchildren.