Clark M. Blatteis, PhD, has reached a milestone in his career that only a few can claim. In 2016, the Distinguished Professor Emeritus in the Department of Physiology in the College of Medicine is celebrating his 50th year of association with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Only three other individuals are currently at the 50-year or more mark at UTHSC.
Joining UTHSC in 1966 as an associate professor in the Department of Physiology, which was then in the College of Basic Medical Sciences, this multilingual researcher has dedicated his career to exploring the pathophysiology of fever, as well as the body’s response processes to various infections. He has authored 131 original articles, 67 review articles and book chapters and four books.
“I was promoted to professor in 1974,” said Dr. Blatteis. “I have worked in the same building, the Nash, for 50 years, during which time I occupied three different laboratories, each a little larger than the preceding.” Dr. Blatteis retired from active research in September 2008, but still uses his expertise to contribute to departmental research efforts.
Originally from Berlin, Germany, Dr. Blatteis was a young passenger on the ill-fated voyage of the SS St. Louis that carried 937 Jewish Germans and Austrians expelled from their homelands to Cuba in 1939. They were not allowed to land, and the ship was forced to return to Europe, where the passengers were ultimately distributed among four sheltering countries.
Dr. Blatteis was assigned to Belgium, but had to flee a year later when the Nazis invaded, eventually ending up in Casablanca, French Morocco, where he received his primary and secondary education. He finally came to America with his parents in 1948, settling in New Jersey, and eventually earning his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University (1953). He then went to the State University of Iowa in Iowa City, where he earned his MS (1955) and PhD (1957) in physiology, and also met his future wife, Yolanda.
Dr. Blatteis was drafted into the Army immediately upon graduating, commissioned, and assigned to the U.S. Army Medical Research Laboratory at Fort Knox, Kentucky, where he worked as a research physiologist in the Division of Environmental Medicine. His research there mainly focused on the body’s physiological responses to cold temperatures. When his tour of duty ended, he was awarded a National Institutes of Health fellowship to undertake postdoctoral studies for two years on altitude and neonatal physiology at the Institute of Andean Biology at the University of San Marcos in Lima, Peru, and the Nuffield Institute for Medical Research at the University of Oxford in Oxford, England.
He then returned to America to work as a civilian researcher for the U.S. Army Research Institute of Environmental Medicine in Natick, Massachusetts (his old unit had moved there from Fort Knox), but found that he preferred to work in academia. He learned of an opening at what was then UT Medical Units from a friend on the faculty, and applied. Although he had almost settled on another offer, the environment and accomplishments of the Department of Physiology persuaded him to choose the job in Memphis.
“When I arrived in 1966, the department was small, but accomplished,” said Dr. Blatteis. “Although its members were interested in different issues, we all could talk and genuinely appreciate each other’s expertise.” As the years went on, Dr. Blatteis would develop the system that would become the blueprint for his extensive studies of the mechanisms that underlie fever and other inflammatory processes.
As he reflected on the progress of UTHSC, Dr. Blatteis said, “I think it has evolved fantastically. We have grown steadily over the years and have attracted more resources, which naturally attract more people. With the many advances it has contributed to research and education, this institution is a great example of long service and dedication to purpose.”
Dr. Blatteis credits his long tenure to hard work, passion and enthusiasm for his field. He has published three invited review articles in international refereed scientific journals since leaving his laboratory. He also continues as an associate editor of the journal Comprehensive Physiology and serves on the editorial boards of Temperature and Neuroimmune Biology. His advice to others is simple: “Discover your passion and then do what you love. Everything else will fall into place naturally,” he said.
Dr. Blatteis is currently editing a book on the worldwide history of his research field, thermophysiology (the study of body temperature), with contributors from around the globe. “I am personally writing the American and a part of the Canadian histories of this field. The book was invited by the American Physiological Society (APS) and will be published by Springer,” he said.
Dr. Blatteis has served on multiple national and international committees and was the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including twice receiving Senior Fulbright-Hays Scholarships (Peru) and the Honor Award of the Exercise and Environmental Physiology Section of the APS. He was elected a Fellow of the APS, and inducted into the APS’s Living History in Physiology project.
When asked about his vision for UTHSC in the years to come, Dr. Blatteis said, “I would like for it to grow in such a way that it will attract the best possible minds in the medical field to this university, so that it may eventually become one of the greatest centers for medical practice and research in not only the nation, but the world.”