Joseph L. "José" Rabinowitz, 85, of Havertown, a biochemist whose research led to the discovery of cholesterol-lowering drugs, died of pancreatic cancer Thursday at home.

From 1953 until his retirement in 1992, Dr. Rabinowitz was chief of radioisotope research at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia.

"He was a pioneer in the use of radioactive isotopes for biochemical research," said Joe Brand, a biophysicist and former colleague.

Dr. Rabinowitz spent most of his career studying lipids, naturally occurring compounds including fats, oils, and cholesterol. Beginning in the 1950s, he collaborated with scientists from other hospitals and universities on research that led to the discovery of HMG-CoA, a key substance in the body's manufacturing of cholesterol. The research led to the development of drugs to lower cholesterol.

Dr. Rabinowitz also studied lipids in relationship to alcoholism, obesity, thyroid disease, and oral cavities. Early in his career, he studied fat metabolism in mice to research muscular dystrophy. In the 1980s, he and Brand studied lipid metabolism as related to the ability to taste.

He also did groundbreaking research on male and female hormones, his daughter Malva said.

Dr. Rabinowitz was the author or coauthor of dozens of scientific articles, and he continued to publish after he retired, she said. While at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, he was also professor of biochemistry at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and taught at Penn's dental school. As recently as last June, he lectured to dental students as a professor emeritus, his daughter said.

Dr. Rabinowitz was born in the Ukraine. He left as an infant with his parents, who were fleeing pogroms, and grew up in Mexico.

He earned a bachelor's degree from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, now the University of the Sciences. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Army, doing malaria research in the China-Burma-India theater.

After his discharge, Dr. Rabinowitz earned a master's degree in chemistry and a doctorate in organic chemistry from Penn. He did postdoctoral studies at Penn's Medical School and in Denmark, England, and France.

He lectured all over the world, including Russia and Japan in the 1960s. In 1982, Dr. Rabinowitz returned to Mexico as visiting professor at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

Since 1946, he had been married to Josephine Feldmark Rabinowitz. They met through family when he needed an English tutor and she needed a math tutor, their daughter said.

Dr. Rabinowitz enjoyed his students and family and entertaining. He took a scientific approach to cooking, analyzing the flavors in a dish, his daughter said.

In addition to his wife and daughter, Dr. Rabinowitz is survived by daughter Lois Lamond, son Marty, a brother, and five grandchildren.

A funeral will be at 2 p.m. today at Levine & Son Memorial Chapel, 2811 West Chester Pike, Broomall. Burial will be in Mount Jacob Cemetery, Glenolden.

Donations may be made to the Dr. Joseph L. Rabinowitz Fund for Cancer Research, 132 Burtis Lane, Syosset, N.Y. 11791.

Contact staff writer Sally A. Downey at 215-854-2913 or sdowney@phillynews.com.