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Dr. John Nicholas Vournakis

Dr. John Nicholas Vournakis
  • December 1, 1939 - January 17, 2018
  • Charleston, South Carolina
  • Memorial gifts may be directed in lieu of flowers to the MUSC Foundation/Hollings Cancer Center. On the website, you may choose what areas of research you would like your donation to fund, under the "My Gift Supports." There is a Prostate Cancer Resea
  • MUSC Foundation/Hollings Cancer Center
    18 Bee Street, MSC 450
    Charleston, SC 29425

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1 of 16 | Posted by: Apostolos Andritsakis

at MILESI, Greece
2 of 16 | Posted by: Apostolos Andritsakis

at TSINTZINA, Greece
3 of 16 | Posted by: Apostolos Andritsakis

“Karen and Chris,I was so sad to hear of John's passing (from Arun Seth). John was a very good man and I am very glad that I had a chance to know him...Read More »
4 of 16 | Posted by: Cliff and Cindy Schweinfest - MD

“What a Great loss. You were an intelligent loving man. You will be missed. ”
5 of 16 | Posted by: Joan Eddy

The Three Amigos
6 of 16 | Posted by: Duane West

“All my condolences for the death of JohnI remembered Philippe talking about him with praisesMy prayers and thoughts are with youMarie Laure Arnaud ”
7 of 16 | Posted by: Marie Laure Arnsud - Mt pleasant, SC

“My most sincere condolences to Karen, Christopher, Jim and the entire Vournakis family. John had a profound impact on many lives. I have over 50...Read More »
8 of 16 | Posted by: A friend

“I knew John since the first grade at Dalrymple grade school in Albion Michigan. Back then there were three of us (John Vournakis, Jack Watson and me...Read More »
9 of 16 | Posted by: Duane West - Fairfield Glade, TN

“Karen, I am so very sorry to hear of John's passing. I count myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with you and with John at Albion...Read More »
10 of 16 | Posted by: Andrew French - Albion, MI

“Karen, I am so sorry to hear of John's passing. I have such fond memories of both you and John visiting our Albion, dear Albion. My thoughts and...Read More »
11 of 16 | Posted by: Marie Ames - Albion, MI

“Memory Eternal. My family was very closely associated with John, his family (Karen and Christopher), his brother Jim and his wonderful parents Thea...Read More »
12 of 16 | Posted by: Joanna Ferencz (Costianes) - PA

“This is devastatingly sad news. John was a hero and a superstar in every endeavor. Our deep condolences to his family. ”
13 of 16 | Posted by: George Ristow - Lakewood Ranch, FL

“We grew up with Karen, and have known John for many years. We thoroughly enjoyed staying in touch with them over at the years, especially during...Read More »
14 of 16 | Posted by: Don & Anita Ferguson - Ann Arbor, MI

“To follow-up on Dick Swain, the science guys wereVournakis, Gibbon, Swain, Hurst, Hurst, Corlis, Berndt.John is the first guy to leave the lab! ”
15 of 16 | Posted by: Gerst Gibbon - Verona, PA

“It is with great sadness that I learned of John's passing. John and I were fellow chemistry majors at Albion (class of 1961). He was an excellent...Read More »
16 of 16 | Posted by: Richard Swain - Indinapolis, IN

John Nicholas Vournakis, PhD, 78, of Charleston, South Carolina, husband of Karen Ann Munro Vournakis entered into eternal rest Wednesday, January 17, 2018. His Funeral Service will be held Tuesday, January 23, 2018 in the Greek Orthodox Church of the Holy Trinity, 30 Race Street at 2:00 p.m. Interment, Live Oak Memorial Gardens. The family will also receive friends Monday from 5:00 p.m. until 7:00 p.m. in J. HENRY STUHR, INC. DOWNTOWN CHAPEL, 232 Calhoun Street.

John was born December 1, 1939 in Cambridge, Ohio, son of the late Nicholas John Vournakis and Panayota Andritsakis Vournakis. Nick and Pota where immigrants from Goritsa, a small rural village in the Peloponnese region of Greece, near Sparta. John's Greek heritage would inform his entire life, leading to academic and business collaborations there and many visits to see family and friends.

He grew up in Albion, MI. Nick and Pota opened a diner, Nick's Lunch, around 1942 on S.Superior St. downtown. Post WW2 Albion was a boomtown. Many businesses thrived at this time in support of the Detroit automobile manufacturers. It was a great place to grow up. John attended Albion High School, excelling in academics, as well as playing several sports (football, tennis). He was a studious young man and his efforts earned him a full scholarship to attend Albion College. There he completed his Bachelor of Science (BS) in Chemistry, Physics and Math in 1961. He was a member of the varsity football team, Sigma Nu Fraternity and was student council president. It was at Albion College that John met Karen Munro, who was to become his wife (married 1961) and the love of his life. Their first and only child Christopher was born in 1963 in Ann Arbor, MI.

Shortly after completing college John decided he wanted to become a research scientist. Graduate studies took him from the Midwest to the east coast. First to Ithaca, NY where he received his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) from Cornell University in Physical Biochemistry in 1968. He entered into an academic exchange program with the University of Prague that fall, but his experience was cut short due to the "Prague Spring" and communist oppression that followed. Spending only a few months there, John decided to move his young family back to the US. He found a position in Boston, MA where he trained as a post-doctoral and research associate at MIT first, and then Harvard University in the fields of molecular biology and genetics. Having completed his studies, John was now ready to pursue his career.

His first tenured position was at Syracuse University beginning in 1973 as Professor of Biology where he spent 12 years doing research on the physical chemistry of RNA structure and on the mechanism of drug-DNA interactions. Moving to Hanover, NH in 1985 he took a role at Dartmouth College as Professor of Biology where he founded their Molecular Genetics Center. His last academic role before moving full time into business came at the Medical University of South Carolina, as Professor of Medicine, which brought John and Karen to Charleston, SC in 1995.
Stints in business were interwoven with his academic roles. He assisted in establishing the genetic engineering group at Bristol-Myers. He was Senior Vice President for biotech start-ups Verax and Genmap. A lasting role in John's life was as Vice President Research and Development at Marine Polymer Technologies, a company he helped co-found in 1992. It was at MPT in partnership with CEO Sergio Finkielsztein and Ray Pariser where John made significant contributions to the medical field. Together they created products that promote wound healing and hemostasis. Another venture with Mr. Finkielsztein was the creation of biotech company Admune Therapeutics. There they developed drug therapies to fight metastatic cancer. Admune was purchased by Novartis in 2015.
Publisher of 150+ scholarly works, inventor on 25+ US and foreign patents, and the first South Carolina inductee into the National Academy of Inventors, John had a long, industrious, and fruitful career in helping to improve the human condition.

Meeting John for the first time you probably would not be aware of the academic and business achievements he made. He was personable, down to earth, easy to talk to, and interested in connecting with people. He loved sports, football and basketball in particular: Michigan Wolverines, Syracuse Orangemen, NY Knicks, NY Giants and NY Yankees where his teams, and of course he followed Albion College football having played there. Travel was another passion, mainly to Europe and throughout the US and Canada. He traveled to Greece on a regular basis to see his family there. He held his parent's country of origin close to his heart, always enthusiastic to connect with fellow Greeks. Always curious, but not limited to the scientific world, history, archeology, literature, music and art were all passions of his. Professionally, he was able to bridge the gap between science and business; however, his greatest passion was being a loving husband, father, grandfather (Papou), brother, uncle, cousin, son and friend. He embraced all and he will be missed.

He is survived by his wife, Karen, of Charleston; his son, Christopher N. Vournakis (Vanessa) of Huntington Beach, CA; brother, James Vournakis (Karen Sue) of Alpharetta, GA; and two grandchildren: Dillon C. Vournakis and Devan N. Vournakis and many cousins, nieces, nephews and friends.

Memorial gifts may be directed in lieu of flowers to the MUSC Foundation/Hollings Cancer Center, 18 Bee Street, MSC450, Charleston, SC 29425. Visit the donation website for more information:
Google: MUSC Hollings Cancer Center donations
Or visit

On the website, you may choose what areas of research you would like your donation to fund, under the "My Gift Supports." There is a Prostate Cancer Research Fund that supports funding for pilot projects. It is not on the drop-down menu right now, but may be manually written in under the "Choose Your Own Fund" option. If you would like the Vournakis family to know you have donated (donation amount will not be disclosed) in John's honor/memorial please fill out notification