Victor J. Ferrans, MD, PhD
Victor J. Ferrans, MD, PhD, a premier physician-scientist noted for outstanding contributions to our understanding of myocardial and vascular pathobiology, died on October 26, 2001, at the age of 64, as a result of complications of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus. Dr Ferrans was a native of Barranquilla, Columbia. He received his undergraduate college education at Dayton University in Dayton, Ohio, and then matriculated for his graduate biomedical education at Tulane University in New Orleans, La, subsequently receiving the MD in 1960, the MS (Anatomy) in 1960, and the PhD (Anatomy) in 1963. He served a rotating internship at Charity Hospital in New Orleans in from 1960 to 1961 and a fellowship in cardiology at Tulane from 1961 to 1963.
Dr Ferrans’ decision to pursue an academic career led him to engage in PhD studies and his clinical training simultaneously. His early scientific training and work was with Marvin H. Hack, PhD, and Richard G. Hibbs, PhD. His PhD thesis was titled “The Fluorescence Microscopy of Lipids.” This graduate work led to a career-long pursuit of the correlation of structural, functional, and biochemical constituents of the cardiovascular system. Dr Ferrans gravitated to cardiovascular medicine because of the influence of George E. Burch, MD (a leading cardiologist of his day and then chairman of the Department of Internal Medicine at Tulane), as well as others, including the internist and cardiologist John J. Walsh, MD, who subsequently became the Dean of the Tulane Medical School and Chancellor of the Tulane Medical Center.
Dr Ferrans was appointed to the faculty of the Department of Internal Medicine at Tulane from 1963 to 1969, and then he joined the staff of the Pathology Branch of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, Md. At the Pathology Branch, Dr Ferrans served as Medical Officer from 1969 to 1976 and as Chief of the Ultrastructure Section from 1977 to 1994, holding both positions during the time that the noted cardiovascular pathologist William C. Roberts, MD, served as Section Chief. After Dr Roberts’ retirement from the NIH in 1994, Dr Ferrans became Chief of the Pathology Section and continued in this capacity until his death.
Recognition for professional and scholarly activity can come from a single great discovery or from the cumulative weight of scholarly contributions. The latter was the case with Victor Ferrans. Over the course of his career, Dr Ferrans published more than 600 scientific articles and book chapters on a broad range of topics, including the pathology of cardiomyopathies and native and prosthetic heart valves. He served on several editorial boards, including those of the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology, the American Journal of Pathology, Circulation Research, Circulation, and the American Journal of Cardiology.
The life of Victor Ferrans gives real meaning to the phrase “profile in courage.” Ten years ago, this superb microscopist lost his vision to diabetic retinopathy. He subsequently underwent a living-related-donor renal transplant and the accompanying long-term immunosuppressive treatment. In spite of having to cope with major complications of a chronic disease, Dr Ferrans persevered as a scientist in part by using the eyes of a number of loyal fellows who would describe microscopic findings that he then would interpret in context of his vast storehouse of knowledge and photographic memory. In recent years, he dictated his manuscripts, and his wife read aloud works submitted to him for review. His scholarly output continued unabated, including at least 12 publications in 2001, until another sudden complication of his disease intervened. His last contribution was an editorial for Circulation, which he persevered in finishing shortly before his final brief hospitalization.
Dr Ferrans was a member of numerous scientific societies, including the American Association of Anatomists, the American Society for Cell Biology, the American Society for Investigative Pathology, the American College of Cardiology, and the International Society for Heart Research. Dr Ferrans’ scholarly achievement as a student was recognized by his election to the Alpha Omega Alpha honorary medical society and the Sigma Xi honorary biology society. Dr Ferrans’ professional honors included the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Cardiovascular Pathology Society in 1992, the 1997 NIH Merit Award for Excellence in Research, and the 2000 Mentor of the Year award for his work with minority students at the NIH. Dr Ferrans received the Silver Medal from the Instituto Nacional de Cardiologia de Mexico and the Cruz de Mento, Republica de Peru. In 1997, Dr Ferrans was elected to membership in the Colombian Academy of Medicine.
Dr Ferrans is survived by his wife of 41 years, Gloria Ferrans of Bethesda, Md; four children (Patricia Ferrans Kurtz, PhD; Victor Ferrans, MD; Richard Ferrans, MD; and Michael Ferrans, JD); two brothers and two sisters; and five grandchildren.
On a personal note, Victor Ferrans was my first and most important mentor, who guided me into my career as a physician scientist with a major commitment to cardiovascular pathology. The die was cast after I started working for Victor on a summer research project shortly after he joined the faculty at Tulane. My research work performed under Victor’s guidance was instrumental in my obtaining a postgraduate training position in the Pathology Branch of the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute with Dr William Roberts in 1968 and in launching my academic career. In turn, I had the honor of introducing Dr Ferrans and Dr Roberts to each other, and the end result was that Dr Ferrans joined Dr Roberts at the NIH. Many other nascent physicians and scientists have been influenced strongly and aided in their professional careers by Victor Ferrans. Victor and I also developed a close and lasting friendship based on a mutual love of good food, wine, opera and other music, literature, travel, humor, and family. In short, Victor loved the fine things in life and conveyed an infectious enthusiasm for the best that life has to offer.
Victor Ferrans had a passion for increasing the understanding of human disease through scientific research. Victor had a brilliant talent for light, fluorescence, and electron microscopy and micrography. The micrographs in his papers demonstrate a consistent combination of scientific and photographic excellence. Victor Ferrans combined this technical and artistic expertise with comprehensive analysis of the scientific literature, rigorous analysis of the data, and a clear and concise writing style. Victor Ferrans stood for unflinching honesty, integrity, and disapproval of mediocrity and sham in both science and life. His papers represent masterpieces of analysis of the interrelationships of structural, functional, and biochemical components participating in the pathogenesis of disease: ie, clinicopathological correlation of the highest order.
In summary, Victor Ferrans was a physician-scientist for the ages whose influence will continue with future generations of physicians and scientists to whom he has passed his unyielding commitment to scholarly excellence and his generous encouragement of this spirit in others. I am proud to be one who is dedicated to carry on his grand vision and legacy.⇓