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Allan Bass, M.D.

Pharmacology pioneer Allan Bass remembered as leader, innovator

BY: NANCY HUMPHREY

Allan Bass, M.D., bottom right, with some of his successors as chair of Pharmacology, including Heidi Hamm, Ph.D., seated, and, from left, Elaine Bush, Ph.D., Joel Hardman, Ph.D., and Lee Limbird, Ph.D.

1/21/2005 - Allan Bass, M.D., bottom right, with some of his successors as chair of Pharmacology, including Heidi Hamm, Ph.D., seated, and, from left, Elaine Bush, Ph.D., Joel Hardman, Ph.D., and Lee Limbird, Ph.D.

Allan Bass, M.D., with Randy Blakely, Ph.D., Allan D. Bass Professor of Pharmacology and director of the Center for Molecular Neuroscience.

Allan Bass, M.D., with Randy Blakely, Ph.D., Allan D. Bass Professor of Pharmacology and director of the Center for Molecular Neuroscience.

Allan D. Bass, M.D., an outstanding administrator, scientist and educator, credited by many as being the architect for Vanderbilt's international reputation in pharmacology, died Friday, Jan. 14. He was 94.

Dr. Bass, professor and chairman of the Department of Pharmacology at Vanderbilt for two decades, was known both as a strong leader and a caring man who, along with his wife, Sara, a 1940 graduate of the Vanderbilt School of Nursing, took graduate students under their wings. Together they treated the students like family, inviting them to dinners at their home, listening to their concerns and helping with their needs. He built the department from a relatively small department in the 1950s to one that has achieved international stature today. By the early 1990s, the Department of Pharmacology was ranked among the top five departments nationally in research dollars.

He led the department by the conviction that pharmacology as a discipline should have a distinct identity and that basic scientific research in pharmacology merits independent funding and recognition in its own right.

“Dr. Bass was a visionary,” says Lee Limbird, Ph.D., professor of Pharmacology and chair of the department of Pharmacology from 1991 to 1998. “He recognized the need for bench to bedside research well ahead of his time, and began the Division of Clinical Pharmacology in the Department of Pharmacology, to assure that such a continuum of problem solving occurred, and had the foresight to recruit the young John Oates as assistant professor of Pharmacology and head of the division,” she said.

Limbird said that Bass understood that Pharmacology was a scholarly discipline not a trade, and worked with the NIH to establish training programs in pharmacological sciences, a training program that continues today, and one where Vanderbilt continues to be a national leader.

“But maybe more important was the kindness of Allan and Sara Bass to everyone who crossed their paths,” she said. “Faculty and trainees alike became extended family, and Tom (Limbird, associate professor of Orthopaedics and Rehabilitation) and I felt very much treated that way, even though I arrived on the scene long after Allan Bass led the department. How blessed I was by his many kindnesses, and consoled by some of his awareness of the frustrations of a Chair. In Allan Bass, Vanderbilt was gifted by a great mind and a great heart."

Randy Blakely, Ph.D., director of the Center for Molecular Neuroscience and Allan D. Bass Professor of Pharmacology, said he is proud to hold the chair with Dr. Bass's name. “Allan truly cared about Vanderbilt and I am very proud to hold the chair that his peers and students established,” he said. “These funds have made possible key investments in technology, personnel and research materials. It makes a tremendous difference to my research program, every day.”

Blakely said he believes Dr. Bass is responsible more than any other individual for Vanderbilt's international reputation in Pharmacology.

“He believed strongly in Pharmacology as a distinct discipline, the fusion of Chemistry, Biology and Medicine, and established a training program that is today the finest in the country,” Blakely said.

He expanded the department's graduate program from two students, prior to 1953, to 61 over the course of his 20-year chairmanship. Pre- and post-doctoral students who trained during Dr. Bass's tenure as chairman now reside throughout the world. In fact, he and his wife often stayed at the home of a former graduate student when they attended international meetings.

“Allan's greatest gift may have been his vision for growth in fields much in their infancy,” Blakely said. “A great example was his investment in a program in psychopharmacology in the mid 1960s, laying the seeds for Vanderbilt's thriving neuroscience program.”

And Blakely echoed Limbird's belief that Dr. Bass's recruitment of John Oates, M.D., Thomas F. Frist Professor of Medicine, and the formation of the Division of Clinical Pharmacology paved the way for Vanderbilt's international reputation for clinical pharmacology research and training programs.

Oates believes that Dr. Bass's decisions were based on a vision into the future of pharmacology.

“Allan Bass had a vision that the scope of Pharmacology ought to include clinical investigation and human pharmacology, and that was unique at the time,” Oates said. “He was aggressive and energetic in recruiting Pharmacology faculty members whose responsibilities were in support of clinical investigation. There weren't many basic science chairs in Pharmacology at the time who would have done that. Allan Bass was unique in that he really put his resources and energies behind supporting this.”

Elaine Bush, also a former chair of Pharmacology, said Dr. Bass's leadership was exemplary. “He seized opportunities to expand research and training in the department, and in the discipline of Pharmacology as a whole,” she said. “But as he built a top-notch department, Dr. Bass never lost interest in the individual. He treated the department as one big family; we knew he would always be there to provide support and guidance in times of success and disappointment.”

Joel G. Hardman, Ph.D., took over as chair of Pharmacology two years after Dr. Bass stepped down. Hardman said that although Dr. Bass was considerate enough not to forcefully offer his advice to Hardman, he would give it gracefully when Hardman asked, and he did many times.

“Everybody knows what Allan did at Vanderbilt, but he was also a leader on the national level, with the NIH, seeing that pharmacology came to be recognized as a prominent medical school discipline,” Hardman said. “He was instrumental in getting training grants established in the field and seeing that pharmacology was recognized as a discipline unto itself. But most importantly, he was a wonderful man — everyone who worked with him adored him, students and faculty alike. He was like a father to our graduate students.”

Dr. Bass also took a great interest in attracting a group of young scientists to begin another new program at Vanderbilt — psychopharmacology. A new training program was approved and funded in 1963 and an interdisciplinary research program was established and coordinated by Fridolin Sulser, M.D.

Sulser, professor of Psychiatry and Pharmacology emeritus at Vanderbilt, had planned to return to Switzerland from his job at the Wellcome Foundation in New York City, when Dr. Bass recruited him to Vanderbilt. “Dr. Bass was foremost a leader,” Sulser said. “He had a vision for the field, and by the two programs he initiated here — clinical pharmacology and psychopharmacology -- he knew where the field was going.”

But what impressed Sulser most were Dr. Bass's impeccable ethical standards. “When he did consulting work, he wouldn't line his pockets. He would put the money back into the department, and if a faculty member had a problem with a grant renewal, he would put that money toward funding the research. He was a wonderful, wonderful human being.”

Dr. Bass was born in Marcus, Iowa on Feb. 12, 1910. He lost three siblings early in his life, and he worked his way through school, receiving a B.S. degree from Simpson College in Indianola, Iowa in 1931. He then came to Vanderbilt and received a Master of Science degree in 1932, and a medical degree from Vanderbilt University School of Medicine in 1939. During the last two years of his training, he worked as a research assistant in pharmacology and also helped two of his siblings receive college degrees.

He served two years of his residency at Vanderbilt, then accepted a one-year fellowship from Yale University School of Medicine in 1942. He returned to Vanderbilt as an instructor of Medicine before serving with the U.S. Army Medical Corps. in the Philippines. After that, he was recruited by the State University of New York in Syracuse as professor and chairman of the Department of Pharmacology, a position he held from 1945 until 1953 when he returned to Vanderbilt as professor and chairman of Pharmacology. Following his tenure as chairman, he served the medical school for one year as associate dean for Biomedical Sciences from 1973-75 and was called upon to be acting dean during 1973-74, when he helped plan and raise funds for Rudolph A. Light Hall. He served on many Vanderbilt committees, including as chair of the University Senate. Following his retirement, he became professor emeritus of Pharmacology.

Dr. Bass's own scientific research spanned more than 40 years and more than 66 articles and abstracts. Early on, he concentrated on developing new anthelmintics and on skin sterilizing agents. Later, he investigated the mechanisms of sulfonamide action and cellular mechanisms involved in endocrine pharmacology.

However, his contributions to pharmacology have extended far beyond Nashville. He participated in many national societies including The American College of Physicians, presided over the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics from 1967 until 1969, and was active in the American Medical Association Council on Drugs.

Dr. Bass is survived by a daughter, Sara Jean (Sally) Bass of Glastonbury, Conn., a son, Allan Bass Jr., of Nashville, and a granddaughter, Erin Bass of Waltham, Mass. At his request, his body is being donated to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

A memorial service will be held Saturday, Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. at Belle Meade United Methodist Church, 121 Davidson Road in Nashville. A reception will be held in the church's fellowship hall following the service.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests that memorial donations be made to the Allan and Sara Bass Pharmacology Graduate Student Assistance Fund. Contributions to this fund should be made out to Vanderbilt University School of Medicine and sent to the Allan and Sara Bass Pharmacology Graduate Student Assistance Fund, c/o Vanderbilt University Gift Records Office, Vanderbilt University, Station B-357727, 2301 Vanderbilt Place, Nashville, Tenn., 37235-7727.

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