One of the driving forces of the long-running, pioneering project known as the Framingham Heart Study died of cancer on Saturday at age 87.

Dr. William B. Kannel of South Natick and Royal Palm Beach, Fl., died of an unspecified cancer, choosing hospice over continued treatments, the Boston University School of Medicine reported.

Kannel, a New York native, graduated from the Medical College of Georgia, and was trained in internal medicine in the U.S. Public Health Service in New York. He was a fellow of the American Heart Association, the American College of Cardiology, the American Epidemiology Society, the American College of Epidemiology and the American College of Preventive Medicine. He emeritus professor of medicine and public health at the BU School of Medicine, past chairman of the Council of Epidemiology of the American Heart Association and a past chief of the section of preventive medicine and epidemiology in the department of medicine at BU School of Medicine.

He began work with the Framingham Heart Study in 1950, two years after that program launched. That study, begun with more than 5,000 volunteers in the town of Framingham, sought to identify the health characteristics leading to heart and lung diseases. The study, which tracked the health of volunteers over the years became a joint project of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and BU, and has since launched additional studies involving new demographic mixes.

Kannel served as director of the study from 1966 to 1979, and continued work as an investigator on the study until he became ill.

A memorial observance is ongoing.

Two years ago, biomarker-focused biotech BG Medicine Inc. reported that it was teaming up with BU and the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to research heart disease using data from the Framingham Heart Study.