January 8, 2009
Vol. 28 No. 7

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    Vascular disease expert, Seymour Glagov, 1925-2008

    A pioneer in the study of cardiovascular disease, especially arteriosclerosis and its prevention, Seymour Glagov, Professor Emeritus in Pathology and Surgery, died Wednesday, Oct. 29, 2008. He was 83.

    Glagov was best known for his studies on the early response of blood vessels to partial blockage, a phenomenon now known as the “Glagov phenomenon.” In 1987, he showed that as atherosclerotic plaque began to build up within an artery, the arterial wall would expand enough to maintain normal blood flow. Only after the blockage reached about 40 percent was the artery unable to keep pace, and blood flow began to decrease.

    With colleague Donald Rowley, Professor Emeritus in Pathology, Glagov invented the gel electrode, now used universally to monitor the heart by electrocardiogram. In 1959, in order to study the relationship between heart rate measured over the course of a day and atherosclerosis, the two pathologists serendipitously discovered that a bare copper wire, embedded in a gel and held in place by a small rubber container glued to a ring of adhesive gauze, could transmit an electrical signal without “electrical noise.”

    These electrodes provided a perfect signal, said Rowley, and could be worn comfortably for more than 24 hours during rest or exercise. They elected to publish their work on electrode development rather than to patent the device, which was available commercially by the late 1960s.

    “Seymour Glagov was a good partner for this study because he was not at all like me. He was slow, careful and meticulous,” recalled Rowley, who shared an office with Glagov when they were new members of the faculty. “He was also remarkably gentle, physically and verbally.

    “He went on to perform a long series of important studies that have helped us understand the relationships between hemodynamics, arterial stress and artery damage,” added Rowley. “The quality and uniqueness of his contributions are greatly appreciated.”

    Former colleague Christopher Zarins, who worked with Glagov for 17 years at Chicago, said, “Seymour Glagov was an incredible human being and a visionary who was the first to understand the atherosclerotic process and how it affects human arteries. He saw the big picture and understood, in a way few people did, the nature of health and vascular disease,” said Zarins, professor and former chief of vascular surgery at Stanford University.

    Born Aug. 8, 1925 in New York City, Glagov graduated with a B.S. in physics from Brooklyn College in 1946 and served in the U.S. Army from 1946 to 1947. He also spent a year as a physics instructor at Brooklyn College, and then began medical school at the University of Geneva, Switzerland, where he was awarded a teaching fellowship. After graduating from medical school in 1953, he returned to Brooklyn for an internship at Kings County Hospital, followed by residencies in internal medicine and pathology at Beth-El Hospital.

    He moved to Chicago in 1956 as a junior pathologist at Cook County Hospital. He came to the University as a resident in pathology in 1957, for additional training in vascular disease. Except for two visiting professorships at Oxford, Glagov never left Chicago. He became an instructor in 1958, an assistant professor in 1961, associate professor in 1966 and professor in 1970.

    The author of numerous publications and the editor of three books, Glagov served on the editorial boards of several scholarly journals and was associate editor of Arteriosclerosis and Thrombosis and the Journal of Vascular Investigation.

    As a researcher, he combined his early training in physics with his clinical interest in arterial damage to become one of the world’s foremost authorities on where and how plaque formed in arteries.

    “He saw and understood things that the rest of us missed,” said Zarins. “Then he developed the tools to show us, presenting three-dimensional views of the plaque as seen within a perfused artery.”

    In 2003 and 2004, Zarins organized symposia in Glagov’s honor at Stanford University on hemodynamic and vascular remodeling.

    “He was an absolutely fabulous guy, a terrific pathologist and a superb teacher, added Zarins, “and extremely popular with the students, a mentor for many. His accomplishments will live on through them.”

    Glagov also was active in various political causes including SANE/FREEZE, now known as the Peace Action network, a nuclear disarmament organization that objected to widespread construction of fallout shelters because they were, “at best,” as his son Hersh recalled, “a waste of money and because they had the potential to lessen opposition to nuclear war.”

    During the Vietnam era, Glagov volunteered with students at nearby Quaker House once a week, where he counseled college students on medical deferments from the draft. In the mid-1970s, he lobbied to reform and update the county coroners system in Illinois, pushing for medical examiners with greater forensic skills.

    His wife of nearly 55 years, Sylvia Glagov, died from ovarian cancer in 2001. Glagov is survived by brother Lester of Orlando, Fla.; son Hersh of Oak Park, Ill.; Hersh’s wife Jennifer and grandson Benjamin.

    In lieu of flowers, contributions should be sent in his memory to the Brooklyn College Foundation. A memorial service to celebrate Glagov’s life and accomplishments is being planned later this year at the University.