Russell Ross, PhD
Visionary Basic Scientist in Cardiovascular Medicine
Dr Russell Ross (1929–1999), Professor of Pathology and former Chairman of Pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, Washington, died at the University of Washington Medical Center on March 18, 1999 at the age of 69. Dr Ross will be remembered for his extraordinary contributions to the biology of atherosclerosis and especially for his contributions to the Response-to-Injury Hypothesis that helped to focus scientific research on specific mechanisms involved in the development of atherosclerosis.
As early as 1973, Dr Ross and his colleagues proposed that localized injury to the lining of the arterial wall was responsible for the accumulation of smooth muscle cells within the wall of the artery that increase the neointima, thus narrowing the lumen of the artery. In 1974, Ross and his colleagues identified platelet-derived growth factor, which stimulates the abnormal smooth muscle cell growth and migration of smooth muscle cells into the intima of arterial lesions. Subsequently, researchers found the same factor in cancer cells and cells that repair wounds. Dr Ross and his colleagues also established the role of macrophages in atherosclerosis; these scavenger cells engulf toxins and fat and themselves secrete growth factors, including platelet derived growth factor. In 1991, Dr Ross and his colleagues demonstrated that antibodies to the platelet-derived growth factor attenuated the process of smooth muscle cell accumulation after interventional injury to arteries in experimental animals, thereby reducing the severity of the “restenosis” lesion that otherwise occurs.
Dr Ross was a University of Washington Professor of Pathology and former Chair of the Department of Pathology and Associate Dean of Scientific Affairs at this medical school. Dr David P. Hajjar, Dean of the Graduate School of Medical Sciences at Cornell University, stated when he heard of Dr Ross’ death, “We lost a pioneer in American Medicine. He was a real catalyst in driving the atherosclerosis field forward.” Dr Paul G. Ramsey, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the University of Washington School of Medicine said, “His accomplishments so dramatically shaped cardiovascular research that he was often mentioned as a potential Nobel Prize candidate. He was also an excellent teacher, and his enthusiastic dedication to research and to the teaching of new scientists will be greatly missed.” Dr Ross’ long-term colleague, Dr Elaine Raines, emphasized, “Dr Ross believed that the 57 students and fellows he trained from all over the world were his most important legacy,” and Dr Michael Gimbrone, Professor of Pathology at Harvard Medical School indicated, “Dr Ross’ dedication to understanding the underlying mechanisms responsible for heart attacks and stroke undoubtedly will continue to bear fruit in terms of new therapies and strategies for prevention, and this will be a lasting legacy.”
Dr Ross was the author of 385 published papers and book chapters. Particularly noteworthy are Dr Ross’ widely read review articles on the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis, which have been guiding landmarks in the field for more than 25 years. His fundamental contributions to vascular biology and atherosclerosis were recognized by scientific organizations throughout the world. He was a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences, and a Fellow of Clare Hall in Cambridge, England. He was the recipient of more than 25 honors and awards, including the National Research Achievement Award from the American Heart Association. He held many distinguished lectureships in universities in the United States, Canada, Asia, and Europe, and he was a past President of the American Society for Investigative Pathology, which in 1992 awarded him the Rous-Whipple Award.
Dr Ross was born in St Augustine, Florida on May 25, 1929. He graduated from Cornell University in 1951. He earned a DDS degree from Columbia University in 1955 but, as he pointed out not long ago, “I really did not want to be putting fillings in people’s mouths, but rather, I wanted to study the process by which wounds heal.” Indeed, Russell Ross and his lovely wife Jeannie then moved from New York to Seattle, where he earned his PhD in Experimental Pathology in 1962 from the University of Washington’s Department of Pathology, the same department that he would later chair. In addition to his many contributions to cardiovascular research and the University of Washington School of Medicine, Dr Ross was also heavily involved in community activities, and he gave 12 years of service to the Seattle Symphony Board of Trustees. He leaves behind his wife of 44 years, Jeannie; his daughter, Valerie, who is a family therapist in Seattle; and his son, Douglas, a MD/PhD fellow at Stanford University. An endowed lectureship in Vascular Biology has been established at the University of Washington in his memory. The dominant influence of Dr Ross in the field of atherosclerosis and his advocacy and power for attracting so many investigators (including ourselves) into such a field are legendary, as were his enthusiasm and humanity. He is missed by the entire community of cardiovascular scientists working in the field of atherosclerosis today.
- Copyright © 2001 by American Heart Association