Donor Profile

Women in Medicine

BUFFALO, NY - For nearly four decades, the late Mary Ellen Rybak ’71, MD, worked tirelessly to find targeted, effective treatments for cancer. Her goal was simple: to help others who needed a cure. Rybak also steadfastly advocated for women in medicine.

“After Mary Ellen’s passing, I received notes from more than 100 women whom she influenced,” says Thomas Griffin, MD, Rybak’s husband of 37 years. “When she began her medical career it wasn’t - and still isn’t- a level playing field for women.” He adds, “Years ago, we held identical positions at the University of Massachusetts Medical School. Mary Ellen’s salary was half of mine.”

Rybak specialized in oncology and hematology - the diagnosis and treatment for diseases of the blood, including leukemia. She was a dedicated researcher and developed new drugs for Johnson & Johnson Pharmaceutical Research and Development. As a consultant for a biotechnology firm, Rybak implemented the long-term clinical strategy for MyVax® personalized immunotherapy, which helps the body fight cancer with its own cells. Rybak also developed targeted gene treatments using DNA cultivated in a laboratory to fight head and neck, colorectal, liver and ovarian cancer. Rybak worked as a medical oncology consultant for MultiVir Inc. at the time of her death in 2013.

According to her husband, Rybak spoke fondly of her Canisius experience and how her bachelor’s degree in biochemistry prepared her for a career in medicine.

“Mary Ellen was so grateful for her Jesuit education,” says Griffin. “The professors taught her to think critically and gave her a solid foundation for her studies at Harvard Medical School.”

Rybak was one of only a handful of women to attend Harvard Medical School in the early 1970s. Yet she pioneered the way for a new generation of women in medicine and empowered them as a professor in the field.

Rybak’s efforts will endure, even in her passing.

An estate gift from Rybak’s husband now makes scholarships available to young women who study pre-medicine at Canisius.

“Mary Ellen would be pleased to be able to advance the cause of young women in medicine, in particular at her alma mater,” says Griffin. “She made great strides in the field during her career. Because of her generosity, the next generation can take it one step further.”

Create your legacy at Canisius. Join the Rev. James M. Demske, S.J., Society.