Sarah Amanda Luse

One of the first scientists to perform electron microscopy of the nervous system

Sarah Amanda Luse with Washington University shield logo

Sarah Amanda Luse was born December 12, 1918, in Emmetsburg, Iowa. She received a bachelor’s degree from Rockford College in 1940 and earned a medical degree from Case Western Reserve in 1949. A neuropathologist, Luse was among the first scientists to perform electron microscopy of the nervous system. She also studied the adrenal cortex and adrenal tumors, brain tumors, demyelinating diseases, myelin formation and diabetic neuropathy.

Luse completed an internship in medicine on the Osler Service at the Johns Hopkins University Hospital and a residency in pathology at University Hospital, Cleveland. In 1954, Luse first came to St. Louis as an American Cancer Society fellow to work in electron microscopy with Edward Dempsey, PhD, in the Department of Anatomy (now the Department of Neuroscience) at Washington University School of Medicine. She then held the ranks of assistant professor, associate professor and professor of anatomy and pathology. From 1964 to 1965, Luse served as the acting head of the Department of Anatomy, the first woman to do so. In 1968, Luse moved to Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York.

Luse attracted enormous numbers of students, fellows and residents.

Luse received the Lederle Medical Faculty Award and the Mayo Foundation Achievement Award, and was a member of the Pathology Training Committee, National Institutes of Health.

Energy, passion and commitment

Sarah Amanda Luse was noted for the energy, passion and commitment she brought both to her own research interests and to the neuropathology lab she ran. The latter service was run so efficiently that often the electron microscopy results were back before the neuropathology.

Luse attracted enormous numbers of students, fellows and residents. Once, when a new fellow joined the lab and inquired about housing, he was told: “Now that you’re working for Sarah Luse, you won’t need housing. You’ll always be in the lab!” A workaholic before the term was coined, Luse lived at the top of Olin Hall and frequently worked until 3 or 4 a.m.

A demanding mentor, Luse would require her trainees to learn how to take the electron microscope apart and put it back together again. Her standards were such that on one occasion when she was leading a national workshop on electron microscopy techniques, she found herself dissatisfied with some of the textbook micrographs. She got on a plane that night, flew to St. Louis, went to her lab, printed better pictures from her own materials, flew back to the workshop and taught from the revised text that same morning.

Although she had a reputation for being crusty, Luse went out of her way for anyone with a hard luck story. When she died unexpectedly at the age of 54, contemporaries say that half of the medical school class owed her money. Students sent their repayment to Edward Dempsey with notes describing how much Luse had helped them.