Blog dedicated primarily to randomly selected news items; comments reflecting personal perceptions

Sunday, November 09, 2014

An Exemplary Life -- An Extraordinary Individual

"Orthopedics in the future will not be simply surgery, or medicine, but a combination of both plus knowledge of the whole area of skeletal structure, its biology, chemistry, and bio-mechanics."
"Nature has evolved this magnificent substance [bone]. It has mechanical properties just beautifully designed to do the job, to carry you around."
Dr. Melvin J. Glimcher, orthopedist, professor emeritus, Harvard Medical School
Stephanie Mitchell / Harvard

"He was a father of the bone field. [He showered younger colleagues with praise]. That was his modus operandi: He was very supportive of young people in the sciences. That's the part of him not everybody knows about."
"He was a very rigorous man. He was a great leader that people admired. He was always honest in telling people what he thought. That's very useful in a scientist."
Dr. Henry Kronenberg, Massachusetts General Hospital

There is an individual who knows intimately the care that Dr. Glimcher, a pioneer in his field of expertise, took to encourage and advance the careers of young scientists. His daughter, Dr. Laurie Glimcher of New York City, as an example, Both she and her father had been alumni of Harvard Medical School; each in their turn had become a tenured professor at age 39 at Harvard. Now, she is dean of Weill Cornell Medical College, in New York.

And she, and other family members, medical colleagues and patients are mourning this exemplary man of science and medicine. He had originally been trained in mechanical engineering and physics. Those disciplines under his belt he headed off for medical school, fascinated by what he considered to be the elegance of bone composition. Medical degree in hand, he spent the next fifty years of his life in research, introducing new practices.

His studies led to a more precise knowledge about the manner in which bones and teeth develop, about the mechanics of walking and running, and he was a leading developer of the "Boston Arm", an artificial limb that responds to commands from the brain. Professor emeritus at Harvard Medical School, formerly chief of orthopedic surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and Boston Children's Hospital he died in May of this year at his home in New York, at age 88.

One of his early research discoveries was collagen, a long chain protein, organized in bones in a manner that provides places for calcification, an integral step in bone hardening. In collaboration with other researchers he helped to create the artificial limb, unveiled to the public in 1968. Dr. Glimcher described the operation of the arm as an interaction of two computers: the brain, which he described as "the greatest computer of them all", and the electronic equipment in the arm.

His study of skeletal disorders and rehabilitation succeeded in aiding the furtherance of medical science and related treatments. His daughter, Laurie Glimcher recalls her father helping her with endless instruction, not only related to their mutual medical interests, but in caring for her children while she was involved in medical training. "I was the fastest diaperer in the East", he boasted.

At age 17, during World War II, he attempted to join the U.S. Marines. His mother tracked him to the recruiting office and he recalled how he tried to talk his way out of the predicament by informing a Marine sergeant that "I've never seen this woman in my life." In his college years he had a chance to serve in the Marine Corps where the Marines sent him to study at Purdue University.

Graduating from Purdue in mechanical engineering and physics, he went on to receive his medical degree in 1950, winning research awards along the way. One of which his daughter was also to win 26 years on. He later studied biochemistry, biophysics and engineering as a PhD student at MIT. His hunger for knowledge and his application of that knowledge to benefit patients was of enormous benefit to society.

At age 39 in 1966 he became the first person to hold a tenured orthopedic surgery chair at Harvard, Twenty-two years later he won a distinguished achievement in orthopedic research award. His students held him in particularly high regard for his skills in explaining sophisticated concepts in a simple manner easy to understand, though he was himself a perfectionist.

"Our entire life was one fun science experiment", his daughter Susan recalled.

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