Arno Motulsky Communitysdrake72021-03-02T17:12:23-06:00
Arno Motulsky Community
Physician House Advising Faculty
Dr. Brittani James
Dr. Brittani James grew up in Twinsburg, OH to a working-class family. She, and her twin sister Brandi are the first physicians in their family. Dr. James graduated from Cornell University with a major in Biology and minor in Global Health. She attended The University of Michigan Medical School and went on to complete Family Medicine Residency here at The University of Illinois at Chicago.
After residency, Dr. James and her twin sister, a Psychiatrist, created a pipeline program called Med Like Me, which focused on increasing the representation of minorities in medicine. This work gained national attention, and has been featured on The Ellen Show, The Kelly Clarkson, NBC Nightly News, and other national outlets.
Earlier this year, Dr. James and her sister founded The Institute for Antiracism in Medicine, a non-profit dedicated to the pursuit of health equity for all along racial lines, including and especially those whose oppression is compounded by their gender identity, ability status, sexual orientation or other identities.
Dr. James currently practices at a safety net clinic on The South Side of the city. Her clinical and research interests include women’s health, chronic disease prevention and management, care of LGBTQ patients, trauma-informed care, and addiction medicine. In her spare time, Dr. James enjoys playing retro video games with her husband, gardening and practicing calligraphy. She is the breastfeeding mother of a 1-year-old daughter.
Dr. Leelach Rothschild
Dr. Leelach Rothschild, MD is an Associate Professor of Anesthesiology at University of Illinois at UIH and splits her time between Shriners Hospital for Children in Chicago and UIH. She grew up in the north suburbs of Chicago and went out east for college where she obtained a BA in Spanish Literature; she developed a fondness for traveling to other countries and learning about other cultures. Upon her return to Chicago, she worked in a Surgical Oncology Lab at UIC and maintained her connection to Spanish through her volunteer work in Pilsen. She went on to receive her MD from the University of Illinois and continued there with her training, completing a residency in Anesthesiology and then fellowship in Pediatric Anesthesiology. She has been a proud lifer at UIH since 2007! (but technically 1997 when she stepped foot into the lab). She is involved in many hospital and department projects, but particularly enjoys supporting residents and department wellness initiatives; she also serves on the Wellness Committee for the American Society of Anesthesiologists. When she is not busy at work, she finds joy spending time with her family, walking and playing with her dog, and when circumstances allow, traveling the globe.
Arno Motulsky, MD (1923-2018)
Arno Motulsky was born in Germany to Jewish parents. He came to the United States in 1941 as a refugee from Nazi Germany, after first being sent to an internment camp in Vichy France. He worked his way through night classes to obtain his GED, then joined the US Army. In 1944, he began medical school at the University of Illinois as a soldier, private first class.He became a hematologist and physician-scientist, initially studying sickle cell hemoglobin. In 1957, he was asked to establish a Division of Medical Genetics at the University of Washington. There, he founded the field of pharmacogenetics. He mentored hundreds of fellows and students over 50 years, including 1985 Nobel Prize winner Dr. Joseph Goldstein.
Arno Motulsky authored in excess of 400 articles, including the definitive text book of his field for its time, Human Genetics: Problems and Approaches, co authored with Friedrich Vogel
Dr. Motulsky was the recipient of some of the most distinguished honors awarded in medicine, including awards from the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society
Dr. Motulsky Biography
Arno Motulsky was born in Germany on July 5th, 1923 to Jewish parents, Herman and Rena (nee Sass). Hermann was a shopkeeper in the town of Fischhausen on the Baltic Sea. Motulsky recounts a happy childhood and early enjoyment of reading and school. As a teenager, he developed a fascination with “what makes people tick,” and contemplated a career in psychiatry and psychoanalysis (Motulsky & King).
As the Nazi regime gained power in the later 1930’s, the Motulsky’s determined it was necessary to leave Germany and go to Chicago where Hermann’s brother was living. The father went to Cuba where he hoped to get visas for the family to enter the United States. However, by 1939, the family was still waiting as Germany grew increasingly dangerous. It was decided that Rena and the children should meet the father in Cuba and wait for the permits. At age 16, Motulsky went with his mother and younger siblings, together with more than 900 Jewish refugees on the ship MS St. Louis*, leaving Hamburg for Havana. Cuba, however, did not allow the passengers to disembark, giving the reason that the entry cards were invalid (Motulsky, 2018).
Motulsky tells the story of passengers aboard the St. Louis as it made its way back to Germany:
So ultimately the ship had to return to Europe. I was 16, so still a little naive, but many of the passengers had been interned previously and knew what awaited us on our return. Some attempted suicide by jumping overboard. Telegrams were sent all over the world asking that we be allowed to disembark anyplace other than Germany. Miraculously, a few days before we would have arrived back in Germany, four other countries—England, France, Holland, and Belgium—each agreed to take one-fourth of the passengers. By luck of the draw, my mother and brother and sister and I were assigned to Belgium. So in June 1939, I started high school in Brussels. (Motulsky & King)
The Motulsky’s went to Belgium, but when the Germans invaded several months later, Arno was arrested as an “enemy alien.” The young man was sent to internment camps run by the French Vichy government in St. Cyprien and Gurs, France. Motulsky relates, “the internment camps had no food or sanitation. Many prisoners died, most from typhoid or starvation” (Motulsky & King). Fortunately, Motulsky had acquired a United States visa at some point and was eventually allowed to go to a camp near an American consulate. Although his visa was expired, he persuaded the authorities to renew it, and he left for Spain and then Lisbon, in June 1941. It was just 10 days before his 18th birthday, and it is reported that if had turned 18 in France, he would not have been allowed to go to Spain. Instead, he would have been taken into Gestapo hands a few months later when the Vichy turned over the camps (Motulsky & King).
*The reader may be interested to know the ship bearing the Motulsky family has been the subject of film (e.g. “Voyage of the Damned,” 1976), plays, and books because of the harrowing events the passengers experienced and the eventual deaths of many who were returned to Nazi occupied territory. Readers may also be interested to research more about groups in the United States and Canada who played a part in turning away this ship and its desperate company.
Motulsky sailed to the United States, arriving in August 1941. He joined his father, but it was not until 1946, that his mother and siblings were able to make their way from Switzerland to Chicago. Between 1941 and 1943, Motulsky accomplished an amazing series of life milestones: he finished his high school GED in night classes, he started college at the Central YMCA College (later Roosevelt University), he applied and was accepted to medical school at the University of Illinois, he became a US citizen, he joined the US army, and he met his future wife, Gretel who was also a refugee. In 1943, Motulsky also was sent to Yale by the army to complete premedical classes in a rapid development program for young physicians. Motulsky describes the happiness and productivity of this whirlwind period.
Yale was fantastic! I walked into Sterling Library, looked up and around, and thought I’d died and gone to heaven. The next year at Yale was a tremendous experience. I took genetics with Donald Poulson and was hooked forever. I ﬁnished the premed courses at Yale at the end of 1943, and in the three months before medical school started back in Chicago, was assigned as an orderly to an army hospital near Boston. In April 1944, I began medical school at the University of Illinois as a soldier, private ﬁrst class. I was released from the army in 1946 at the end of the war, ﬁnished medical school in 1947, and took a residency in internal medicine and a fellowship in hematology at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago. (Motulsky & King)
Motulsky’s fellowship at Michael Reese was supervised by Dr. Karl Singer and focused on sickle cell hemoglobin through the lens of rabbit immunology. When the Korean War begin in 1951 and Motulsky re-enlisted, he was assigned to the start-up hematology unit at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington DC. As a result, Dr. Motulsky conducted a number of the first successful experiments on structural anemias. Because of this work, in 1953, Motulsky was offered a choice between the highly competitive William Castle fellowship at Harvard and an internal medicine appointment at the University of Washington, where he was to establish a Division of Medical Genetics in 1957. Motulsky chose the adventure of Seattle. In preparation for his new role, Motulsky spent a year working with the foremost scientists in the emerging new field of medical genetics. Here is his recollection:
Before starting a Division of Medical Genetics, I needed to learn what was possible. Jim Neel’s department at Michigan was the most exciting human genetics program in the country. Jim was a geneticist with tremendous breadth and depth in the ﬁeld who had gone to medical school after completing his PhD (39). He realized that the province of medical genetics extended all the way from physiology to populations and embraced areas, like statistical genetics, outside his immediate expertise. He became my mentor and role model, although he was only seven years older than me. In order to bring Jim’s broad perspective to Seattle, I needed to know more about mathematical genetics. So I spent eight months in the human genetics unit of Lionel Penrose at University College London (10). Penrose’s department was the best in human genetics in Europe, including, in addition to Penrose himself, J.B.S.Haldane, C.A.B. Smith, and several others. People were very critical and helped me recognize excellent work. (Motulsky & King)
In his memorial essay, John Opitz summarizes some of Motulsky’s achievements, which reflect both his service to the nation and its investment in him:
Rarely, in our field, has anyone taken on higher teaching and investigative responsibilities with greater talent or didactic qualifications than Arno G. Motulsky. The investment by the U.S. Army in his education paid off in almost 60 years of service to the University of Washington, the establishment of an important new branch of biological science (Pharmacogenetics), of a world-class training program (48 postdocs, the standard textbook in the field), and of a highly successful, productive research program leading to a Nobel Prize… addressing one of the most urgent health problems of humankind—the lipid defects predisposing to myocardial infarcts. (Opitz)
George Stamatoyannopoulos, who called Arno “a great intellectual and a great friend” recounted some of Dr. Motulsky’s many professional associations and distinctions:
He was a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians, and the American Philosophical Society. The American Society of Human Genetics honored him with all three of its major awards: the William Allen Memorial Award, the Excellence in Education Award, and the Victor A. McKusick Leadership Award, and it established in his honor the Arno Motulsky–Barton Childs Award for Excellence in Human Genetics Education. (Stamatoyannopoulos)
Dr. Motulsky authored in excess of 400 scientific articles, and the definitive textbook of his field for its time together with Friedrich Vogel. He was also the recipient of some of the most distinguished honors awarded in medicine, including awards from the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Philosophical Society (Grady).
New York Times reporter, Denise Grady characterized Motulsky’s achievements in the words of his colleagues and mentees, who recognized his visionary influence over the infant field of genetics. For example, Francis Collins acknowledged Motulsky’s groundbreaking contribution to the field of Pharmacogenetics, which investigates the effect of individual genotypes on patients’ responses to drugs:
It was his vision to study how heredity could be involved in practically everything,” Dr. Francis Collins, a geneticist and the director of the National Institutes of Health, said in an interview. “The relationship between heredity and the response to drug therapy — nobody was thinking about that until he started, 60 years ago. He anticipated it decades before science made it possible to get the answers that he dreamed of.” (Grady)
Dr. Mary Claire King, a leading geneticist at the University of Washington who discovered linkages between breast cancer and genetics, lauded the Motulsky’s broad engagement of population genetics and diseases: “…the field is now integrated into every other field of medical practice, and has become the soul of precision medicine” (Grady).
One of Motulsky’s most notable mentees, Joseph Goldstein, won a Nobel Prize in 1985 for his work on cholesterol reducing drugs. Goldstein expressed his gratitude for Motulsky’s support and encouragement, which greatly facilitated his Nobel work:
“Arno was sort of a maestro of human genetics,” Dr. Goldstein, now chairman of the department of molecular genetics at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, said in an interview. He added in an email, “He gave me the confidence to design a large study on lipid levels in survivors of heart attacks and gave me support and resources — at a time when I was only 28 years old.” (Grady)
In his semi auto-biographical article (“as story told to Mary Claire King”), Dr. Motulsky shared his sense of achievement as a mentor and teacher through his textbooks, stressing the importance of well-formed questions and research projects that press into new discovery:
I believe that my most important contribution to medical genetics has been mentoring hundreds of fellows and students over the past 50 years, and I was delighted when my way of mentoring became a model for the ﬁeld (31). Part of mentoring, including reaching young scientists I don’t know personally, has been writing textbooks that present our ﬁeld in all its complexity and elegance. Between 1979 and 2010, Friedrich Vogel and I wrote four editions of Human Genetics: Problems and Approaches (51). The text has appeared in English, German, Italian, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese. We present genetics as a series of problems for readers to think about, applying approaches from medicine, biochemistry, statistics, and most recently genomics to their solution. In advising young fellows how to select a research problem, whether by example from the text or from clinical work or from an experimental observation, my theme is that a good problem pushes knowledge ahead. It does not just add another brick to the ediﬁce. In practical terms, it’s probably a good idea to have several projects in play at the same time. The most fun are Sunday morning projects, to work on when no one else is around. Sunday morning projects are less likely to work, but ultimately a few may really change the ﬁeld. What will be good problems for the next generation of geneticists? With the completion of the Human Genome Project, we now have the table of genes, just like the table of elements. We can answer genetics questions much more rapidly than in the past, but the fundamental questions themselves have not changed. I think the next great challenge will be to understand how gene products interact with each other and with nongenetic factors. Genetics is linear, but these problems have more dimensions. (Motulsky & King)
Jarvik and King, Motulsky’s longtime colleagues remember the long line of his mentorship to geneticist who would eventually become world leaders themselves, and his openness to diversity:
“Many other medical geneticists were not formally his trainees but learned from him in conversations and in clinics. Links to Arno as a teacher appear wherever one touches down in medical genetics. We think it likely that Arno has mentored, formally or informally, a large proportion of medical geneticist now practicing in this country and abroad. As with other founders of our field, Arno welcomed women and men and young scientists of all ancestries as trainees. The diversity of our field is a tribute to this inclusive welcome. (Jarvik & King)
Another Motulsky trainee, Dr. Debra Freedenberg, Medical Director of the Newborn Screening and Genetics Unit for the Texas Department of State Health Services applauded her mentor’s efforts to include minorities: “Having started [a] genetics fellowship at a time when women in medicine were relatively rare, Arno was truly gender blind, wanting only the best training for those he mentored” (Jarvik, 2018). Dr. Motulsky’s characteristic ethical sensitivity to bias and ethnic discrimination was also alluded to in Oransky’s obituary for him in the Lancet:
Late in his career, Motulsky acknowledged that the field he helped create raised difficult questions. “Any discussion of population origins raises the question of whether the term ‘race’ is meaningful in genetics. I am uncomfortable with the term, because of the horrible misdeeds that have been done in its name.” Ultimately, he said, “with respect to genetic ancestry, race is less important than a patient’s genotype at any specific alleles that influence sensitivity to disease or to a drug.” (Oransky)
Motulsky’s intellectual stamina was matched by his dedication to people, as reflected in his long clinical practice and love for his family. In his autobiography, Motulsky talked his enjoyment of active service as an attending in internal medicine until he was 70 years old. Most beautifully, Dr. Motulsky also celebrated his life companion, wife and mother of his 3 children, Gretel, who pre-deceased him in 2009: “I was only able to do all that I did because Gretel took care of everything: our home, our children, and me. And she made it look easy. She was amazing. I was incredibly lucky to have found, early in my life, a partner of such intelligence, humor, and spirit” (Motulsky & King).
Dr. Motulsky was actively engaged with professional meetings and activities until 92 years of age. He passed away at age 94 in Seattle on January 17, 2018. John Opitz wrote a tender memorial for his friend and colleague of over 40 years for the American Journal of Medical Genetics:
This, in brief outline, is the story of Arno G. Motulsky, not finished, only begun. A heroic story it is of a truly fortunate man, fortunate to have survived the deadly anti-Semitism of Hitler in his native Germany, the Nazi invasion of Belgium, and the internment camps of Vichy, France, and to end up in Chicago in one piece and with an intact family, unlike most other European Jews and Jewish families. I cannot but wonder to what extent Arno’s most admirable personality and character traits, his integrity and honesty, kindness and humility, drive and commitment to the highest standards, openness to the new, indeed the very catholicity of his interests were innate or acquired during his first 16 years in Fischhausen? We will never know, but what we do know is sufficient to inspire future generations to redeem their suffering and to bestow meaning on their existence in like manner and with like generosity, tolerance, and good grace. (Opitz)
Jarvik, G. P. (2018). Arno G. Motulsky, MD (1923-2018): Holocaust survivor who cofounded the field of medical genetics. Genetics in Medicine : Official Journal of the American College of Medical Genetics, 20(5), 477-479. doi:10.1038/gim.2018.55. Accessed May 2020 at: https://www.nature.com/articles/gim201855
Motulsky, A. G. (2018). A German‐Jewish refugee in Vichy France 1939–1941. Arno Motulsky’s memoir of life in the internment camps at St. Cyprien and Gurs. American Journal of Medical Genetics Part A, 176(6), 1289-1295. doi:10.1002/ajmg.a.38701. Accessed May 2020 at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6001526/
Stamatoyannopoulos, G. (2018). A tribute to Arno Motulsky. The Journal of Clinical Investigation, 128(5), 1709-1710. doi:10.1172/JCI121197. Accessed May 2020 at: https://www.jci.org/articles/view/121197