University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas
Almen L. Barron, Professor Emeritus and former chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas, died on November 16, 2003, as a result of a month-long illness.FIGURE
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Al was an excellent scientist, a superb mentor to many young faculty members and students, an outstanding teacher, and a loyal friend to many. He was rigorous in his standards for research but always open to new ideas and impeccably honest and fair in his interactions with students and colleagues. He was a gentle person with an incredibly dry wit and was known to be very fond of the humor of Monty Python. Outside of his work, his true passion was hockey and the Toronto Maple Leafs, being a native Canadian. He was also very fond of Celtic music.
Al was born in 1926 in Toronto, Canada. He received a BS Agriculture degree in 1948 from the Ontario Agricultural College (University of Toronto) and an MSA degree in 1949. He received his PhD degree from Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, in 1953. A year later, he joined the Department of Microbiology at the University of Buffalo, which later became the State University of New York at Buffalo, and worked his way up through the ranks. He was promoted to professor in 1968. His main area of interest was virology, particularly clinical virology. He became the Director of the Erie County Virus Laboratory. When he came to Buffalo, he became involved in the clinical trials of the Salk polio vaccine. He also had a strong interest in human cytomegalovirus. He was responsible for developing the widely used BGM (Buffalo green monkey) cell line for viral culture.
However, in 1964, Al obtained a Fulbright research scholarship and did a sabbatical at the Hebrew University–Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem with Dr. Bernkopf, who was one of the pioneers in the study of what was then known as the Trachoma virus, then and now recognized as the major cause of preventable blindness in the world. Although Al originally had planned to be studying this “virus,” as it turned out, he really was studying a bacterium, Chlamydia trachomatis. Thus, the virologist turned into a bacteriologist, although he always maintained his interest in virology, particularly clinical virology.
It was with the study of this organism that Al developed his research reputation. He initially studied the antigenic properties of the organism; but in the early 1970s, it became recognized that C. trachomatis was a major cause of sexually transmitted disease and, more importantly, pelvic inflammatory disease. At that time, the only animal model to study the disease was the nonhuman primate, an extremely expensive and difficult model to use. Al took a strain of chlamydia that produced ocular disease in the guinea pig and found that he could induce a genital infection in the guinea pig, which modeled that of the human disease in males and females. This model was and still is recognized as the best small animal model for chlamydial disease and is the only model of a sexually transmitted disease agent in which sexual transmission can be demonstrated.
In 1974, Al came to Arkansas as professor and chairman of the Department of Microbiology in the College of Medicine. He came to a traditional department, which was primarily concerned with teaching medical students and doing very little research. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant that he brought with him to Arkansas was the first NIH grant in the Department of Microbiology. One of the first things he did on arriving was to change the name of the department to the Department of Microbiology and Immunology because he felt very strongly that immunology was a major science and should be represented strongly in the College of Medicine. He proceeded to recruit, within the space of 3 years, 6 young faculty members to the department and led them in developing a strong research-based department. He was an excellent mentor and led by example, remaining funded by NIH until he retired in 1991.
He continued to work on chlamydia. In 1981, he published a paper describing a mouse model for chlamydial genital infection using the C. trachomatis agent of mouse pneumonitis. This model is the most widely used model today for the study of the immune response to chlamydia and, together with the guinea pig model, is responsible for most of what we know about the immunology and pathogenesis of chlamydial genital infections. In addition, these are the primary models being used by vaccine companies working to develop a vaccine against chlamydia. During his career, he published over 100 peer-reviewed manuscripts and coedited, with Noel Rose, Basic Microbiology Principles and Clinical Applications in 1983 and edited the CRC book, Microbiology of Chlamydia, in 1988.
When he arrived in Little Rock, Al also recognized a strong need for the clinical isolation and identification of viral agents. To remedy the lack of such a service, he created the first clinical virology service at UAMS and in the state of Arkansas.
Al was an outstanding teacher throughout his academic career, instructing medical students in microbiology and immunology and mentoring graduate students to their doctorate degrees. As a result of his teaching prowess, he was awarded the Golden Apple Award as the outstanding instructor in the sophomore year in both 1975 and 1977.
He is survived by his wife of 54 years, Shirley; a son, Joshua C. Barron and his wife, Tammy L. Barron, and his grandson, Jared J. Barron, and a sister, Merrill Spreng.