Arthur Mu-En Lee
Dr Arthur Mu-En Lee, a rising star in vascular biology and a valued member of the Circulation Research Editorial Board, died unexpectedly in April 2000. His passing, unanticipated and premature, is a grievous loss not only for his family and friends but also for the entire field of cardiovascular science.
Dr Lee distinguished himself from his days as a medical student at his beloved Kaohsiung Medical College in Taiwan. His brilliance there was legendary, and he garnered support for his quest for further scientific training in the United States. He transferred to the University of California at San Francisco, where he earned a doctoral degree with Dr David Ramsey, studying the roles of cardiopulmonary and high-pressure arterial baroreceptors in the control of renin, ACTH, and vasopressin secretion.
After his graduate work in San Francisco, Dr Lee completed training in internal medicine at the Mayo Clinic. Even while engaged in full-time clinical training, Dr Lee’s passion for research led him to work in Dr John Burnett’s laboratory, where he explored the clinical ramifications of the physiology of natriuretic peptides. The late Dr Edgar Haber then recruited Dr Lee to the Massachusetts General Hospital, where he completed training in both cardiology and molecular biology with Dr Tom Quertermous. This move heralded a highly productive period. Dr Lee performed important early studies on the regulation of expression of the gene encoding a then newly recognized vascular hormone, endothelin.
When Dr Haber relocated to the Harvard School of Public Health, Dr Lee led the charge, establishing his independent laboratory and contributing enormously to the success of the cardiovascular biology research laboratories established by Dr Haber. His research in basic vascular biology flourished, leading to a series of fundamental investigations on the function of vascular smooth muscle cells, their lineage determination, and transcriptional control.
In 1998, we were fortunate to recruit Dr Lee to establish a cardiovascular developmental biology program in the Cardiovascular Division of the Department of Medicine at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He quickly became an important contributor to our programs, and his absence here will be sorely missed.
Dr Lee’s scientific enterprise showed an enormous breadth, not only of scientific interest but also of technical expertise. Dr Lee showed boundless courage to incorporate new techniques. However, Dr Lee’s research work was always aimed at a biological question, rather than being driven by the technology. He displayed an unusual combination of biological insight and technical prowess.
Another characteristic of Dr Lee’s work was his physiological perspective. Trained first as a physician and then as physiologist, he never became mired in reductionism as he embraced molecular biology. Despite his mastery of molecular biology, he never lost sight of the integrative aspects of the biological problems that he studied. This focus, rooted in clinical medicine and integrative physiology, lent an unusual dimension to his basic laboratory work.
In addition to his record of superior laboratory achievement, Dr Lee established himself as an outstanding mentor. He attracted and advised a talented and productive coterie of young investigators and trainees. Many of these individuals have now developed independent and productive careers of their own. In the enterprise of biomedical research, few of our experiments endure as much as the individuals whom we train. Dr Lee’s legacy rests secure because the investigators he mentored will propagate the work he began, inspired by his model.
Dr Lee was able to motivate and lead successfully, not only because of his scientific brilliance, but also because of his personal characteristics. He combined ambition and confidence, ingredients often required for success, with an unusual measure of modesty and patience. These latter qualities are uncommon in a researcher of his caliber. A good deal of the respect he commanded from his trainees and colleagues alike derived from other characteristics, notably his integrity and his generosity. Dr Lee’s rigor and exactitude in personal dealings were unimpeachable. His generosity endeared him to his trainees and colleagues. He was always ready to lend a hand, be it administrative, clinical, or scientific. He fostered the independence of his junior colleagues with unusual dedication.
For all of these reasons, Dr Lee’s premature death leaves us bereft. A particularly promising career has been cut short. However, Dr Lee’s model of brilliance, hard work, integrity, and generosity should continue to inspire us all.
The opinions expressed in this editorial are not necessarily those of the editors or of the American Heart Association.
- © 2000 American Heart Association, Inc.