In Memoriam: Stoodley, Paul

In Memoriam: Stoodley, Paul


Paul Stoodley, Ph.D., passed away peacefully at the age of 63 on April 8, 2024, after an extraordinary fight against cancer. He was surrounded by his girls, Luanne, Victoria, Emily and Pixie the cat. Despite being diagnosed with Stage IV lung cancer in spring 2022, Stoodley continued to live his life as he always did: with joy, adventure, curiosity and an infectious love for life.

Stoodley was a professor in the Departments of Microbial Infection and Immunity and Orthopedics at The Ohio State University (OSU), Columbus, Ohio. He was a member of ASM throughout his career and, in 2019, was elected as a fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. 

Stoodley's accomplishments are recognized throughout the world. His area of work focused on understanding bacterial biofilms, communities of microorganisms that live in and on our bodies and cause many devastating infections. Specifically, Stoodley focused on the mechanical properties of biofilms, and he contributed more than 250 publications in that area. He directed numerous microscopy imaging workshops worldwide, including each of the ASM Biofilms meetings. For several cycles, Stoodley served on the program committee for the ASM Conference on Biofilms, where his passion for interdisciplinary science guided the conference proceedings. He was the director of the OSU imaging core and established the orthopedic infection research program, bringing bench research into treatment of biofilm-mediated periprosthetic infection and osteomyelitis. Stoodley played a role in training and directing literally hundreds of new scientists. 

Stoodley's infectious enthusiasm for science and his passion for mentoring new scientists has been inspiring and will be greatly missed. He was also a force of nature, running the Boston marathon in less than 3:30 even after his cancer diagnosis, and biking to and from work nearly every day, regardless of the weather. Stoodley was a friend to all at OSU and a source of positive energy, even in the most difficult times. His colleagues grieve for this loss with his family, friends and community at OSU and beyond.

Stoodley began his microbiology career as a technician at Montana State University at the Center for Biofilm Engineering (CBE) where he was responsible for the innovative use of confocal microscopy. At that time, it was thought that biofilms were flat, and transport was only diffusional; he proved that dogma wrong. He helped elucidate the complex 3D structure of biofilms with channels and “mushrooms.” By using fluorescent microbeads and inventive techniques, he demonstrated the flow of oxygen-rich medium deep into the biofilms via channels. His work and ideas were essential in showing how biofilms adapt their structure to optimize the uptake of growth-limiting substrates. 

At the CBE, Stoodley was a wonderful colleague with a sharp and creative mind, and a collaborative, interdisciplinary thinker. He served as a true social manager by organizing sporting and community activities in the mountains and in town, and these efforts were crucial to the delightful and productive atmosphere in the CBE. He had a great sense of humor, always ready for fun and a friend to all.

In the 1990s, he decided, with his family, to join Dr. Hilary Lappin-Scott’s research group at the University of Exeter, U.K., as a doctoral student. He quickly showed his brilliance, producing superb research for his doctoral thesis. He was an exemplary doctoral student, frequently leading exciting new concepts within the group. His love of research and of life was compelling, and he touched so many lives in the U.K. microbiology community, joining in several of the British Biofilm Club meetings in Gregynog in Wales and leading scientific sessions. When he presented his pioneering research showing the 3D structure of biofilms for the first time at the ASM Biofilm meeting, the large audience gasped at their first sights of the findings.

Stoodley returned to the CBE to conduct postdoctoral studies in the lab of the late Bill Costerton. Here he showed that biofilms are elastic, adding another layer of complexity to biofilm modeling. He blended his knowledge of engineering, biofilm mechanical properties and pathogenesis and fostered a life-long passion for better understanding orthopedic biofilm infections and their relevance to persistent diseases. 

In 2004, Stoodley began his first faculty positions at the Allegheny-Singer Research Institute in Pittsburgh, Pa. Stoodley introduced confocal microscopy in the Center for Genomic Sciences, directly detecting biofilms in culture-negative chronic infections. His work settled a long-standing debate in the field; years earlier, when Costerton was asked if the molecular signature from "sterile" inflammatory glue ear of chronic otitis media meant that it was a biofilm. Stoodley and Luanne's work revealed the images that confirmed this hypothesis. Stoodley was beloved in Pittsburgh, both inside and outside the laboratory. He was a dedicated collaborator and mentor, sharing his super-human energetic indefatigable passion for skiing, cycling, running and philosophical debate with many colleagues.

In 2009, Stoodley was recruited to the National Centre for Advanced Tribology at the University of Southampton. He was a brilliant collaborator and worked widely across the university. His location with the engineering department facilitated interdisciplinary collaboration, enhancing the application of engineering techniques to biofilm research, and he made key contributions within marine fouling research, oral health and in the clinical translation of biofilm research. He was instrumental in the founding of the National Biofilms Innovation Centre (NBIC). Stoodley was always a great supporter of trainees, always fun to be around and generally a wonderful colleague and friend to many.

Stoodley clearly had an international presence in microbiology. He had a tremendous impact on the Danish, Dutch and Chinese biofilm communities and regularly visited these to share technology insights, as a course instructor, examiner on numerous Ph.D. defenses, and as a speaker at numerous national and international conferences. Stoodley was always willing to share his knowledge, always having time for scientific discussions, no matter if it was questions by faculty or students. Stoodley will be greatly missed both as a superb collaborator and as a great friend.

"When you die, it does not mean that you lose to cancer. You beat cancer by how you live, why you live and in the manner in which you live." ~ Stuart Scott

The full obituary is available here

Obituary Submitted By:
Daniel J. Wozniak, Ph.D., Ohio State University
Dirk de Beer, Ph.D., Max-Planck-Institute for Marine Microbiology
Hilary Lapin-Scott, Ph.D., Swansea University
Farrel Buchinsky, MD, Allegheny General Hospital 
Jeremy Webb, Ph.D., University of Southampton
Thomas Bjarnsholt, Ph.D., University of Copenhagen
Luanne Hall-Stoodley, Ph.D., Ohio State University