Celebrating 175 Years: 1846-2021
Since the school’s founding in 1846, its faculty have made significant contributions to the advancement of the basic sciences and clinical care.
The following are a few highlights.
After graduating from UB medical school in 1878, Ernest Wende, MD, studied in Berlin and Vienna, where he was introduced to a new theory that implicated germs in disease. In 1887 he returned to Buffalo, opened his own practice and worked to promote healthy hygiene practices, which led to his being ridiculed as a “bug doctor.” When he became health commissioner of Buffalo in 1897, Wende greatly reduced mortality rates associated with a typhoid outbreak in the city by having the water supply tested and ordering its source changed when the typhus bacteria was detected—actions initially derided by the mayor and water board.
Wende also determined that the nipple-and-tube bottles used to feed children were contaminated by bacteria, and he posited that the deaths of many children could be attributed to the resulting milk-borne infections. His proposed ban on the long-tubed bottles was met with a campaign of resistance from the bottle manufacturers, pharmacies that sold them and politicians. Despite this, Wende oversaw passage of a law banning the bottles, after which the number of pediatric deaths in the city dropped by 50 percent. He invented the easier-to-clean short-nipple bottle that is still in use today.
Ernest Witebsky, MD, the founding chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, along with Niels Klendshoj, MD, isolated the B-antigen found in human blood, a discovery that made blood transfusions safer. Witebsky and his associates also conducted pioneering studies in autoimmune disease and its relation to thyroiditis, Addison’s disease and myasthenia gravis. In 1959, he received the Karl Landsteiner Award for his work with blood antibodies.
Up until the 1950s, scientific dogma held that the body could not produce antibodies against itself. Noel Rose, PhD, MD ’64, who came to UB in 1951, overturned that theory. Working under Ernest Witebsky, MD, Rose conducted experiments showing that the immune cells of rabbits could destroy their own thyroid glands. This discovery led to an entirely new field of science, autoimmunity, and the discovery of what causes Hashimoto’s disease in humans. While at UB, Rose attended medical school, graduating in 1964. In 2016, he became an emeritus professor at Johns Hopkins University. An article titled “The Father of Autoimmunity: A Profile of Noel Rose” was published in the June 2020 issue of The Scientist. Written by Diana Kwon, it describes in detail Rose’s work with Witebsky at UB. Rose died of a stroke on July 30, 2020, at age 92.
As an obstetrician-gynecologist in the 1950s, Jack Lippes, MD ’47, fielded many complaints from patients dissatisfied with their limited options for birth control. This prompted the UB professor to research a new design for the intrauterine device, despite much controversy. The result was the plastic double “S” loop—a trapezoidal-shaped IUD that closely fit the contours of the uterine cavity, thereby reducing the incidence of expulsion. First distributed in 1962, the Lippes Loop quickly became the most widely prescribed IUD in the United States.
In 1960 Robert Guthrie, MD, PhD, professor of microbiology and pediatrics, assisted by Ada Susi, a nurse who was his principal lab technician, invented a simpler “heel-prick” method for screening infants for phenylketonuria (PKU), a genetic disorder characterized by an inability of the body to break down the amino acid phenylalanine. Damage caused by PKU often resulted in severe cognitive impairments. Guthrie, who had a son who was mentally retarded, declined to patent his test or accept royalties from its sales, which allowed hospitals to quickly and inexpensively implement PKU screening on a large scale. The “Guthrie test,” as it came to be known, launched a worldwide movement to screen infants for disease soon after birth.
Wilson Greatbatch, a UB assistant professor of engineering, developed the first practical implantable pacemaker. To bring his idea to fruition, he carried out two years of experimental work with William Chardack, MD, then chief of surgery at the Buffalo Veterans Affairs Hospital, and Andrew Gage, MD, UB professor of surgery. Since 1960, the Greatbatch pacemaker has improved and saved the lives of millions of people worldwide.
Michael D. Garrick, PhD, professor of biochemistry, was recruited to UB in 1970 by Robert Guthrie, MD, PhD, a pioneer of newborn screening who invented a simple test for phenylketonuria (PKU). Guthrie’s lab was searching for other disorders that could be detected through neonatal screening. After joining the lab, Garrick succeeded in devising a test for sickle cell anemia. Key to his success was his collaboration with Lydia T. Wright, MD, the first African-American pediatrician in Buffalo and a tireless community activist. In 1975, New York became the first state in the nation to mandate testing for sickle cell anemia. Today, over a quarter of a million New York babies are tested annually for hemoglobin SS (abnormal type of hemoglobin), resulting in about 100 to 150 sickle-cell diagnoses a year.
Lawrence Jacobs, MD, professor of neurology, was determined to improve the lives of his patients. His resolve led to groundbreaking research on multiple sclerosis (MS)—most notably the development of Avonex (interferon beta-1a), the drug most prescribed for people suffering from relapsing MS. In 2000, the Harvard Health Letter named Jacobs’ research one of the top 10 health advances of the year. As chair of the Department of Neurology, Jacobs hosted and trained scientists from around the world in his MS Clinic.
Since 1999, hundreds of thousands of premature infants have been rescued with Infasurf, an exogenous surfactant that decreases the incidence of respiratory distress syndrome and associated mortality. The drug was developed in the late 1980s and early 1990s by UB researchers Edmund A. Egan, MD, professor of pediatrics, physiology and biophysics (pictured); Goran Enhorning, MD, PhD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology; and Bruce A. Holm, PhD, professor of pediatrics, gynecology-obstetrics and pharmacology. Egan subsequently founded ONY Biotech, a neonatology pharmaceutical company, which manufactures Infasurf and is a leader in creating other products for the treatment of premature infants.
L. Nelson (“Nick”) Hopkins III, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor of neurosurgery and radiology, and chair of the Department of Neurosurgery from 1989 to 2013, was among the first neurosurgeons to apply minimally invasive endovascular techniques to the treatment of cerebrovascular disorders. In the mid-1970s, he pioneered the adaption of existing endovascular technologies, originally designed for cardiology, to suit the more delicate vessels of the brain.
An advocate of cross-specialty collaboration, Hopkins fostered the creation of UB’s Toshiba (now Canon) Stroke & Vascular Research Center. He also was a lead visionary for and founder of Kaleida Health’s Gates Vascular Institute (GVI) and the Jacobs Institute (JI), co-located on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus along with UB’s Clinical and Translational Research Center.
In the mid-1990s, Bradley Fuhrman, MD, a UB professor of pediatrics and anesthesia, developed a revolutionary technique called partial liquid ventilation (PLV) to treat respiratory distress syndrome, a common, often fatal complication in premature infants.
Prior to the development of PLV, treatment involved increasing the pressure and oxygen concentration inside a baby’s lungs in an effort to force more oxygen into the blood stream, sometimes resulting in permanent lung damage.
PLV introduces an oxygen-rich liquid called perflubron into the baby’s lungs. The liquid allows the lungs to inflate with less pressure than air, and permits oxygen and carbon dioxide to pass through the air sacs and into the blood stream more easily and efficiently. Reaching this milestone took approximately 30 years. One of the major barriers to clinical application around the world was the fact that liquid breathing required a highly specialized ventilator. Fuhrman simplified the entire process by discovering a way to apply liquid breathing using a standard hospital ventilator.