In Memoriam: Howard Morgan (1927–2009)
Howard E. Morgan, who died on March 2, 2009, did as much as anyone to incorporate molecular biology into cardiology and cardiovascular research. His original research helped bring basic science to the bedside, and his superb organizational skills helped physicians use this and other new knowledge to manage patients with cardiovascular disease.
Howard was born in Bloomington, Illinois, on October 8, 1927. After 1 year at Illinois Wesleyan University (1944– 1945), he entered The Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where he earned his MD degree in 1949. After completing a residency in Obstetrics and Gynecology at Vanderbilt University in 1953, he joined their faculty as Instructor in Obstetrics and Gynecology. However, a growing interest in basic science led him to begin a fellowship with C. R. Park in Physiology at Vanderbilt in 1954. His first article, on the transport of glucose and other sugars across cell membranes, was published in 1956 while he was on active duty in the US Army, serving as Assistant Chief of the Obstetrics and Gynecology Service at Ft Campbell, Kentucky. In 1957, he joined the physiology Department at Vanderbilt where, in 1959, he became Assistant Professor of Physiology and, in 1962, Associate Professor. His research, which at that time focused on the regulation of carbohydrate metabolism in the heart, received a major boost from a year spent in the Department of Biochemistry at Cambridge University, where he studied with P. J. Randle. In the mid-1960s, Howard began a productive collaboration with J. R. Neely, with whom he published a series of landmark articles defining the relationship between cardiac metabolism and the work of the heart. He was promoted to full Professor of Physiology at Vanderbilt in 1966, at which time he embarked on a long-term effort to define a link between energy supply and protein synthesis. This new line of research fueled a growing interest in the regulation of gene expression and helped to bring about a paradigm shift in Cardiology.
In 1967, Howard became the first Chair of the Physiology Department at the new medical school of the Pennsylvania State University at Hershey, where he assumed the Evan Hugh and J. Lloyd Huck Professorships of Physiology and several administrative positions. He moved to the Geisinger Clinic as Senior Vice President for Research and director of the newly founded Siegfried and Janet Weis Center for Research in 1987. Here, he led a group that, by adding to our understanding of the regulation of protein synthesis, played a central role in efforts to understand the beneficial and deleterious effects of cardiac hypertrophy. Howard’s contributions to this field included landmark studies on the role of stretch as a stimulus for protein synthesis and mechanisms that regulate RNA transcription and protein breakdown. At the same time, his growing involvement in the organization and administration of cardiovascular research helped to integrate modern molecular biology and clinical cardiology.
Because of his remarkable effectiveness and high standards of integrity, Howard was called on to deal with a variety of difficult challenges. The list of scientific societies and journals to which Howard made major leadership contributions represents a “Who’s Who” in cardiovascular medicine. He served as chairman or president of the Association of Chairmen, Departments of Physiology (1975–1976); the Cardiac Muscle Society (1976–1977); the Basic Science Council of the American Heart Association (1983–1986); the American Section of the International Society for Heart Research (1979–1982); the International Society for Heart Research (1983–1986); the American Physiological Society (1985– 1986); and the American Heart Association (1987–1988). His role in sustaining the American Heart Association funding of research was among his long-lasting successes. He served on many study sections and review committees and, from 1974–1983 and 1986–1992, was Coordinator for Problem Area 3, Myocardial Metabolism, US:USSR Exchange Program. He served on a number of editorial boards and publication committees, several of which he chaired. In these and other activities, Howard developed a reputation as a “problem solver” who could rationalize the activities of new organizations that were seeking to define their identities, reorganize older societies that were approaching senescence, and breathe life into failing journals.
Howard’s many leadership positions, along with his medical background, his experience as an investigator in biochemistry and molecular biology, and his solid understanding of cardiovascular physiology allowed him to help direct cardiovascular science into the modern era of molecular biology. In the 1940s and 1950s, when most heart disease in the developed world was caused by rheumatic and congenital valve and other structural abnormalities, the introduction of cardiac catheterization into clinical cardiology and rapid advances in cardiac surgery moved hemodynamic physiology to the forefront of medicine. By the 1970s, the growing importance of ischemic heart disease and recognition of the clinical role of cardiac energy starvation and depressed myocardial contractility made the many biochemical discoveries at that time relevant to the care of the cardiac patient. The emergence of molecular biology in the 1980s began to lay a new foundation for major advances in the understanding of cardiovascular diseases. Howard, whose background made it possible for him to recognize the clinical relevance of this rapidly evolving science, found himself in a unique position to bring these new scientific disciplines to the bedside. Using his outstanding administrative skills, Howard helped steer the many societies and organizations in whose activities he participated toward molecular biology. He helped develop innovative programs, such as the Bugher Foundation grants administered by the American Heart Association, to enhance the training of cardiologists in molecular biology, and to focus the efforts of established organizations on newly developing scientific disciplines.
Howard received many honors, including the Distinguished Achievement Award of the American Heart Association, the Peter Harris Award of the International Society for Heart Research, Citations for Distinguished Service from the American Society of Biological Chemists and the Association of Chairmen, Departments of Physiology, an Honorary Fellowship from the American College of Cardiology, and both the Carl J. Wiggers and Ray G. Daggs Award of the American Physiological Society.
On a personal level, Howard was soft-spoken but fiercely demanding, an excellent listener, and a loyal friend. Many became familiar with the supportive twinkle from his eyes that often accompanied one of his pointed remarks. Cardiovascular medicine is a stronger discipline as a result of his lifework. He will be missed by his many colleagues.
The opinions expressed in this editorial are not necessarily those of the editors or of the American Heart Association.