Harvey Milton Patt, Radiology; Physiology: San Francisco
Harvey Patt died at the age of 64 on November 4, 1982, after a very short battle with a fulminating malignancy.
Harvey was one of the very small group of postwar scientists who understood the need for an interdisciplinary approach to gain an understanding of a physical modality, radiation, that cuts across all of the natural sciences. As such, in 1950, he was the executive secretary of the first comprehensive interdisciplinary forum on radiation research, the Oberlin Conference, which was sponsored by the National Academy of Sciences--National Research Council's Subcommittee on Radiobiology, centered in the NAS-NRC's Division of Physical Sciences.
The spirit of the time, of the new atomic age, and of the group itself, with Harvey Patt in the forefront, led directly to the formation of the Radiation Research Society, the first of its kind in the world. From this initial period, Harvey was instrumental in the intellectual, numerical, and even financial growth of the field of radiobiology. His list of contributions is indeed extensive. He was the Radiation Research Society's first treasurer, its ninth president, a member of the editorial board of its journal, Radiation Research, and the executive secretary of that most felicitous radiation research meeting, the First International Congress of Radiation Research, held in Burlington, Vermont in 1958. He also was a member of the NAS-NRC's Subcommittee on Radiobiology during the years that that group instigated the development of the integrated multidisciplinary approach to radiobiology, whereby chemists, physicists, biologists, and medical scientists all brought their skills to bear on a problem in the life sciences. This is an approach that now, in the era of molecular biology, is a commonplace. Because of his insight, indefatigable approach to his commitments, and wisdom, he also was called upon to act in an advisory capacity to the federal government and, from 1962 to 1970, held the important post of
― 234 ―scientific secretary to the United States Atomic Energy Commission's Advisory Committee for Biology and Medicine.
Harvey was invited to the University of California, San Francisco, in 1964. He came at the beginning of the period during which UCSF was to develop into one of the world's premier life sciences institutions, and he was one of the initial group of eminent basic scientists who masterminded the steps that led to the preeminence of UCSF's basic science faculty. At UCSF, he became the director of the Laboratory of Radiobiology, an organized research unit, and was able to fulfill his dream of building a basic research institute of cell biology. As a scientist of vision, he planned a cell biology institute that would start with biophysical and physiological studies of the genetic material, DNA, and then proceed through chromosomes in which the DNA was organized, to whole cells and tissues, whose functions were dictated by this genetic material. His outline of a cell biology institute starting with studies of DNA, and then working on up through cytogenetics and physiology to development and immunology, is a format still used at UCSF.
Harvey Patt was the scientific administrator par excellence, who believed in recruiting the best colleagues he could and then giving them complete freedom to carry out their science as they would. He believed that the director's function was not to “direct” the research, but to facilitate his colleagues' abilities to carry it out. He aggressively promoted the advancement of his staff within the University and their recognition both nationally and internationally. As the reputation of his institution and of his colleagues grew, so did Harvey's reputation; and it could be seen that he had a genius for administration and was the best of laboratory directors.
It should be pointed out, however, that for this method of benign administration to be successful, first-rate colleagues must be attracted, and in a scientific institution that cannot be done by a nonscientist or an ordinary scientist. In order to attract the best people, the director himself has to be a first-rate scientist who commands the respect of his peers. This, of course, defined Harvey Patt. His early pioneering work in radiation protection afforded by sulfhydryl compounds was superb and forms the basis for chemoprotection studies still going on with active radical scavengers, such as cysteine, that can protect against X-ray damage. Harvey was wise enough to carry this work as far as it could reasonably be done and then to realize that, at the time, we didn't have the tools to carry it further. At that point he changed his research interest toward gaining a fundamental understanding of how cells grow and divide, and how normal, unirradiated bone marrow cells can be used to rescue lethally irradiated animals whose bone marrow has been killed and whose immune response has been knocked out--studies that have been exceedingly important in the clinical advances made in human bone marrow transplantation. Interestingly enough, an
― 235 ―example can be found of Harvey Patt's sagacity in choosing research areas by noting that, even today, long after he gave up research on radiation protection for his bone research, people who are interested in radioprotection are still using derivatives of cysteine, the molecule with which he began his research. It might also be added that many of the experiments being carried out today are highly reminiscent of those done by him in the early 1950s. His initial work on radioprotection, and his subsequent work on hematopoiesis, culminated in his winning the coveted and prestigious E. O. Lawrence Memorial Award from the United States Atomic Energy Commission.
Harvey Patt was a scientist's scientist, and all through the years, while running an ever more time-consuming institute, and contributing more and more time to the committee work involved in University governance, he continued to make important scientific contributions in cell cycle kinetics and tissue repopulation. His last fascinating find was that, when cultured fibroblasts from yellow bone marrow are implanted under the renal capsule, they will differentiate to give rise to stromal elements only, whereas fibroblasts from red marrow will give both stromal and parenchymal elements.
Harvey epitomized the very rare combination of a first-rate scientist, first-rate counselor, and first-rate administrator.