In Memoriam: Claes E.G. Lundgren, MD, PhD

Clas Lundgren.

Published June 24, 2022

Claes E.G. Lundgren, MD, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Physiology, Emeritus, passed away peacefully on June 12, 2022.

He was born in 1931 in Stockholm, Sweden and he completed his education in Sweden, eventually earning an MD and PhD at the University of Lund. Dr. Lundgren became a world expert in respiratory physiology, diving and hyperbaric medicine. He was recruited to the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1977 by Dr. Hermann Rahn and Dr. Leon Farhi to direct the hyperbaric physiology program.

Dr. Lundgren served as the director of the Center for Research and Education in Special Environments (CRESE) which was established in the early 1990’s. He was the director of CRESE until 2005 and remained an active investigator until his retirement in 2008. His science and leadership attracted visiting scientists from around the world. He was responsible for obtaining funding for CRESE from the U.S. Navy, the U.S. Army, the National Institutes of Health, and private companies.  

Dr. Lundgren was the consummate professor excelling at teaching, service and research. He mentored many Master’s, PhD, and MD students, and postdoctoral fellows. Many of Dr. Lundgren’s trainees have become leaders in their fields around the globe. His guidance included scrutiny of the science and attention to details in writing.

His work involved both theoretical modeling and experimental studies. He was a recognized expert in respiratory function, including ventilation, gas exchange, hypo- and hyperbaric oxygen, nitrogen uptake and clearance, air embolism, liquid breathing, anesthetic effect of gases, water immersion and diving. His work defined static lung loading in diving, set the physiologically and subjectively acceptable breathing resistance standards for diver’s breathing gear, and increased our understanding of the physiology of breath hold diving. In addition, he made significant contributions to understanding and preventing vertigo in pilots and the physiology of high G stress.

Dr. Lundgren acquired over 100 patents on topics ranging from improved diving gear used by the Swedish Navy and devices to enhanced gas transport, to pharmacological agents (e.g., Nicorette). His work was published in prestigious peer-reviewed journals, including Nature, The Lancet, Acta Physiology and Pharmacology, British Journal of Medicine, Anesthesiology, Undersea and Hyperbaric Medicine, Aviation and Space Medicine, Respiration, Ergonomics, European Journal of Applied Physiology, Journal of Gravitational Physiology, and Artificial Cells, Blood Substitutes and Biotechnology. He also contributed to many book chapters, edited 6 books, including The Lung at Depth. He was also a guest editor for the Journal of Applied Physiology.

His worldwide reputation in these areas was recognized by the many prestigious awards, including UB Excellence in Teaching of Preclinical Medicine, the Albert Behnke award, Niagara Research Foundation Inventor of the Year, UB Exceptional Scholar, Pioneer of Science Award, SUNY Chancellor’s Award, and the SUNY Distinguished Professorship.

His personal interests included aerobatic flying, sailing, and listening to classical music and jazz.

Dr. Lundgren was a devoted colleague and dear friend to those who had the privilege to work with him. He loved to dance with his wife, Lone, and was blessed throughout his career and life by the help and support that she gave him.

Memorial for Dr. Claes E.G.Lundgren

Dr. Lundgren was my teacher, colleague and friend for 47 years. I started working in his lab during med school, and after my internship I returned for 4 years as a post doc. It was exciting and fun to be a part of his research team. He was a brilliant physiologist, a great mentor and a tireless worker. He had a wonderful, warm sense of humor, was very cosmopolitan, and his lab was visited by interesting and talented people from all over the world. The purpose of the lab was to study the human body’s response to various environmental stresses, such as water immersion, deep sea diving, high altitude exposure, hot and cold exposure, enhanced gravitational forces and graded exercise. We tested breathing gear for Navy Seals, propeller guards for water craft designed to prevent injury to Florida manatees, world record breath hold divers, water immersion under high G loads to help design better G suits for Air Force pilots, ways to optimize air delivery to working divers at depths to 190 feet and we even studied a potential blood substitute consisting of a suspension of microbubbles containing oxygen. From time to time we suspended all lab work to provide emergency treatment for victims of carbon monoxide poisoning and decompression sickness in our diving chamber. Despite a very busy lab schedule Dr. Lundgren always made time for his many undergraduate and graduate students, and he took great pleasure in seeing his proteges receive Masters or PhD degrees. He also taught many scientists on sabbatical from the U.S. and abroad. He was an avid sailor and an accomplished aerobatic pilot, and I will never forget the day he turned my world upside down as he gleefully demonstrated a barrel roll with me in the back seat of his plane. I am forever indebted to this fine man for what he has given me, both professionally and personally, and every day that I work in the ICU I am able to use the principles of physiology that he taught me to help my patients through their critical illness. 

Donald D. Hickey, MD
U.B. Med School Class of 1978
Surgical Intensivist
Millard Fillmore Suburban Hospital