What do you think contributed to Allan Bass’ vision as he created the Department of Pharmacology, as you inherited it at Vanderbilt?
Allan’s vision, I think, came at least in part from his intuition about the directions in which Pharmacology was going to evolve. He had been to Medical School at Vanderbilt and was Chief Resident of Medicine there. Before entering medical school he had earned a Master’s degree in chemistry, and while in Medical School he worked in the Pharmacology Department, which was led by Paul Lamson. Lamson, as you know, was the only Chair of the Department before Allan Bass. Allan served in the Army during World War II and after the war went to Yale as a post-doctoral fellow. He knew Lou Goodman and Al Gilman there and did some of the early work on first generation cancer chemotherapeutic agents. Soon, he was recruited to the Chair of Pharmacology at Syracuse. When Allan moved to Vanderbilt a few years later, there were only two or three faculty members in the Pharmacology Department.
I’m unclear about the history of Allan’s early recruitment to the Department. He recruited Murray Heimberg, who had a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and had then gone on to get a medical degree, as well as Erwin Landon and Leon Hurwitz. Rama Sastry came in the late 1950’s. He had an advanced degree from an institution in India and a masters degree from Emory. He came to Vanderbilt University to obtain his Ph.D. and was recruited to stay on the faculty. Ray Harbison joined the faculty in the early 1970’s as a toxicologist.
Allan Bass worked hard to build up the graduate program in the Department and obtained a training grant in Pharmacology from the NIH. He served on the first NIH Pharmacology Study Section and was instrumental in getting the NIH to recognize Pharmacology as a discipline that was worthy of training grants. Back then, training grants were discipline-focused.
When Allan returned to the Pharmacology department at Vanderbilt, he inherited a department where graduate student training was shunned. Under Lamson, there had been only one graduate student. Lamson believed that pharmacologists should be trained in a fundamental discipline, say chemistry, and then learn pharmacology as a post-doctoral fellow. So, Allan built the Pharmacology Department graduate program from scratch, and when I took the Chair, there were about 20 students in the program.
Elaine Sanders-Bush was a student during the Bass era. She should talk about the environment in the Department then.
Murray Heimberg was a strong character, I remember, but he wasn’t the director of graduate studies. Allan Bass was DGS then, and Rama was the DGS when Joel came into the Department. We had this oral qualifying exam that was real tough….all of the faculty were there and they could ask anything they wanted to. Murray Heimberg asked me to write the pathway of synthesis of cholesterol. I started doing it in words, but no, he wanted it in chemical structure. He was the second person to ask me a question. Then, of course, I just fell apart because I couldn’t answer that question and then I did horribly on the next couple of questions, and finally I recovered. That was one of the worst experiences I ever went through in my life. But maturing….
There were required and elective courses. I don’t remember what courses were called, but I do remember Earl Sutherland lecturing in one of our courses. We had a lot of courses, and of course, we took the medical pharmacology course as the lynchpin course to give us breadth. Murray Heimberg offered a course in endocrinology. There was a receptors course, but in those days you had to take it on faith. There was just a concept there.
Who taught the drug metabolism course?
Maybe Jim Dingell was involved. He was Milton Bush’s postdoc. And then he became an assistant professor before he left Vanderbilt. I worked with Jim Dingell a lot. He was a very good mentor.
Milton Bush’s big thing was countercurrent distribution. Have you ever heard of that?
I’ve heard of countercurrent in the kidney.
No. This was a method of separating chemicals by solvent extraction; you would have 24 connected centrifuge tubes, and you would mix them and let them set. And then you would pour them into the next one. And you would get a distribution. It was almost like a chromatograph. Based upon the lipid solubility and polarity, you could separate molecules that way. It was much more powerful than a single extraction. So it was essentially a multiple sequential extraction procedure. It was a rather complex analysis. He would have to analyze all the fractions at the end.
And how did he analyze the fractions? Paper chromatography?
I think it was probably spectrophotometry.
Milton Bush came under Lamson. And he was there during….
Allan Bass’s time. He came before Allan did and stayed on.
Did he end up being part of the Clinical Pharmacology Division or Pharmacology?
But it again shows where Pharmacology and Clinical Pharmacology had a lot in common.
Milton was not an especially ambitious person. He just enjoyed doing science and did it with great rigor. I don’t think he even thought about trying to get a second grant. He was a big tennis player and he was actually the tennis coach at Vanderbilt for many years while he was on the faculty.
But he was acting Chair.
He was, before Joel came.
But he didn’t want to be Chair?
No. He was interim Chair between Bass and Joel. Dr. Bush had only one arm. Did you know that?
I had heard that. What was that from?
He had gangrene. He had broken his arm, and the cast was on too tight.
As an adult?
No. He was nine years old.
We worked really hard as graduate students. I lived in a dorm, which is now the nursing school. I was amazed that, with my stipend, which was only about $2,000 a year, I was able to save money. It was very inexpensive to live in the dorm. I bought an MGB. It was a lot of fun; a nice distraction after long hours in the lab.
Murray was the hard one in the department… the tough guy. There were only 4 or 5 graduate students. There was one other female (from east Tennessee) but she left and got married.