It is with great sadness that we share the news that Diane M. Becker, ScD, MPH, RN, an expert in the prevention and management of coronary disease, passed away peacefully at home in Baltimore, Maryland, on November 17 with family at her side. She was 78.
A 1964 graduate of the Johns Hopkins Hospital School of Nursing, Dr. Becker was nursing director of intensive care units in London, Boston, and Chapel Hill, NC, before Dr. David Levine recruited her to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine faculty in 1984 as a researcher in cardiovascular disease prevention. In 1987, she was the first nurse to receive a primary academic appointment in the School of Medicine, in the Department of Medicine Division of General Internal Medicine, with a joint appointment in the Bloomberg School Department of Health Policy and Management.
At the School of Public Health, Dr. Becker completed a master's of public health in 1979 and a doctor of science in health policy and management in 1984. Her doctoral thesis on cardiovascular risk in siblings of adults with premature coronary artery disease grew into a landmark NIH-funded cohort study. With her colleague and husband, Lewis Becker, a professor in the Department of Medicine Division of Cardiology, she founded the Johns Hopkins Sibling and Family Heart Study (now known as GeneSTAR). This unique family study recruited over 4,000 participants from two generations, collecting data over 35 years to investigate genetic and lifestyle risk factors for early heart disease. The study’s impact was heightened by Dr. Becker’s foresight to collect DNA on all subjects, most of whom have undergone whole genome sequencing. This genetic material become the foundation for the discovery of novel genetic variants associated with platelet function and early onset coronary artery disease. Today, the Sibling Study continues to produce new knowledge regarding biological, genetic, behavioral, and socio-cultural risk factors for cardiovascular disease, as well as effective interventions to lower overall cardiovascular risk profiles in the families of individuals with genetic markers for the disease.
Dr. Becker partnered with pastors from 250 East Baltimore churches to form the award-winning Heart, Body, and Soul, Inc., an independent nonprofit organization designed to create real-world healthcare delivery alternatives in inner city African American communities. At the Johns Hopkins Brancati Center for the Advancement of Community Care, she was the founding director of research, focusing on community diabetes care and prevention in East Baltimore. Dr. Becker also stood out for her work in close partnership with CURE (Clergy United for Renewal in East Baltimore) to improve opportunities for community members to enter health careers. Her work at Johns Hopkins to reduce health disparities was recognized with awards from the American Heart Association, American Association of Medical Colleges, and President George W. Bush. In 1995, she was awarded a prestigious Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and Institute of Medicine Federal Health Policy Fellowship and worked in the office of Senator John Chafee, a member of the U.S. Senate Committee for Medicare and Low Income Families.
Dr. Becker was a sought-after mentor of students, post-doctoral fellows, and junior faculty from medicine, public health, and nursing. Through her Federal Health Policy Clerkship program, Hopkins medical students were placed in Congressional or Executive Branch offices in Washington, DC.
A passionate supporter of the John’s Hopkins Nursing Alumni Association, Dr. Becker worked with some 100 classmates to raise more than $500,000 to fund the Class of 1964 Terrace as part of a 45,000-square-foot expansion to the School of Nursing’s Anne M. Pinkard Building.
“Dr. Becker was a distinguished nurse researcher and mentor and a trailblazer for the nursing profession,” said Sarah Szanton, PhD, RN, FAAN, dean of JHSON. “She leaves a great legacy as a role model to all the alumni and students she touched throughout the years.”