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Cholesterol Detective

Courtesy Stanford News Service

RUNNING DOC: Wood, in 1980.

By Susan Ipaktchian

Running was in Peter Wood's blood—and monitoring it led him to discover that runners had higher levels of "good" cholesterol, possibly lowering their risk of heart disease.

Wood, an emeritus professor of medicine at the School of Medicine, died March 3 in Palo Alto of bile duct cancer. He was 81.

His early observation of the link between running and cholesterol levels led to a series of elegant trials that teased out the roles of exercise, caloric restriction, low-fat diet and weight loss on lipoproteins and heart disease. "Peter's license plate said, 'HIGH HDL,'" says medicine professor Marcia Stefanick, noting the reference to high-density lipoproteins, also known as good cholesterol.

Born in 1929 in London, Wood could talk about the barrage of "buzz bombs" that barely missed his school during World War II. His degrees were from the University of London. The love for running began early: He joined London's Herne Hill Harriers in 1946 and competed in events while in the Royal Air Force. By his count, he ran more than 100 marathons, including 13 Boston marathons.

He came to the United States in 1962 when he began his research at the Institute for Metabolic Research in Oakland. In 1969, he moved to Stanford and started collaborating with medicine professor John Farquhar and communication professor Nathan Maccoby. Their work evolved into the Stanford Prevention Research Center.

Wood recruited a number of runners to participate in ongoing research about the effects of exercise on health, and in 1979 he co-founded and became the first president of this group of running enthusiasts, now known as the Lifelong Fitness Alliance.

"Anyone who knew him even remotely was aware of his passion for running," says Stefanick."They also knew that he was devoted to animal rights and loved his dogs and cats, and that he was a world traveler whose experiences ranged from famous British luxury cruise liners, four-wheel-drive adventures in the Australian Outback, camel rides near the Egyptian pyramids and visits to all of the great cities of Europe." In 2001, he climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

His wife, Christine, who worked for many years as an administrative assistant in the department of radiation oncology, died in 2004. He is survived by his daughter, Loretta Walter.

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