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Basil Hirschowitz was born in 1925 in South Africa. In 1943 he graduated with a BSc in Physiology, and, in 1947, a MBBCh, from the Medical School of the University of Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, where he also completed a two-year residency.
Professor Hirschowitz then undertook four years of graduate medical studies in London, one in cardiology under Sir John McMichael at the Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith, and three years at the Central Middlesex Hospital under Sir Francis Avery Jones. Here, he completed the research for a doctoral dissertation 'The Physiology of Pepsinogen in the Human' for his MD.
In 1953 he moved to the USA, where he continued his GI fellowship at the University of Michigan and joined the faculty between 1954 and 1957. In 1955 he founded the Gastroenterology Research Group with Clinton Texter. After two years (1957 to 1959) at Temple University in Philadelphia, he then became the founding chief of Gastroenterology at the University of Alabama School of Medicine, Birmingham (UAB). He held this position until 1988.
Professor Hirschowitz still remains at UAB and is happily pursuing clinical duties and research as Professor Emeritus and Professor of Physiology.
In 1955 and 1956, whilst at the University of Michigan, Professor Hirschowitz worked together with C.W. Peters and L. E. Curtiss to develop practical fiberoptic bundles based on their invention of glass-coated glass fibers.These fiberoptic bundles were specifically designed, and used in January 1957, to assemble the original protoe fiberoptic gastroscope. This is now archived at the Smithsonian Museum. In 1987 he was awarded the Kettering prize of the General Motors Cancer Foundation for this work.
Professor Hirschowitz has been studying physiology, pharmacology, and diseases of the upper GI tract for over 50 years. This work is represented in more than 350 papers, the first appearing in Gastroenterology in 1951. Current research involves NSAID effects on the GI tract, Zollinger-Ellison syndrome, peptic ulcer, and esophagitis.
Awards and honors he has received include the Schindler Medal of the ASGE, the Friedenwald Medal of the AGA, the Distinguished Lecturer Award and Distinguished Scientist Award of the ACG, and the Markovitz Award of the Surgical Research Society of America.
Professor Hirschowitz has been elected Master of the American College of Physicians, member of the Association of American Physicians, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians (RCP) of London and of the RCP of Edinburgh. In addition, he has been appointed Honorary Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine, Honorary member of the BSG and of the Italian Society of Gastroenterology.
Professor Hirschowitz has given a large number of named lectures including: The Distinguished Lecture of the ASGE, the Hurst, Founders, and Astra lectures of the BSG, the McArthur Lecture at the University of Edinburgh, and the William Deiss Lecture at the University of Texas.
Other honors include election to the Alabama Academy of Honor, Fellow of the Royal Philatelic Society of London, and the Distinguished Lecturer at UAB. A Chair in Gastroenterology was established at UAB in his name.
He and his wife, Barbara, are the proud parents of four children and four grandchildren.
- What made you decide to become a gastroenterologist?
- As a student, I had never met a gastroenterologist, but during a 6-month surgical internship in Johannesburg I was attracted to surgery (then principally abdominal). My goal was to learn GI and then apply that to becoming a GI surgeon. Unlike my college roommate, the late Sol Kuper, who did this in neurology and neurosurgery, I never felt that I had learned enough GI to start formal surgical training.
- Who was the teacher you admired the most?
- I had a series of great teachers who won my admiration. In South Africa, Robert Broom, paleontology; Raymond Dart, anatomy and paleontology; Moses M. Suzman, a physician's physician, and not least, Sir Francis Avery Jones, the very model of a modern gastroenterologist.
- Which research paper influenced you the most?
- To pick one paper would be like choosing one snowflake in a blizzard. Perhaps, the most direct influence came from two papers. The first by H. H. Hopkins and N. S. Kapany, 'A flexible fiberscope using static scanning', Nature 1954; 173: 39-41. The second is a companion paper in the same issue by ACS van Heel, 'A new method of transporting optical images without aberration': Nature 1954; 173: 39.
- What is the most important fact that you have discovered?
- The most important fact that I have learned is that Science is a living entity that may be likened to an onion, where every layer of discovery shed from the outside is replaced by another growing in the core. This fortunate fact will continue without end to provide work and enjoyment for future scientists.
- What is the biggest mistake that you have made?
- To choose the biggest mistake from many I have made would itself be a mistake, because as James Barth in Giles Goat-Boy said, "too much self-knowledge is always bad news".
- What is your unfulfilled ambition?
- My unfulfilled ambition was always to be an artist, though this ambition is being sublimated by admiring the art made by my wife and two daughters.
- What is your greatest regret?
- Perhaps I ought to confess to being greedy in wanting to start all over with today's science. My greatest regret, therefore, is in not knowing how it will all turn out.
- How do you relax?
- I relax, with difficulty, though relaxation comes more easily at my age. When I do relax, it is by gardening, reading, or walking, preferably on a beach, without phone or pager.
- What is your favorite sport?
- I no longer play any sport. I used to play and still enjoy watching rugby played, but get to see too little of it.
- What is your best place in the world?
- My best place in the world remains on the South African farm on which I grew up.The small stream, located at the foot of a sandstone cliff in which there were many mysterious shallow caves, remains my personal secret best place. I visit it very frequently in my mind's eye.
- What is your favorite film?
- My favorite film was and probably still is "Fantasia".
- What car do you drive?
- My car is a Lexus LS-400.
- What is your best electronic 'toy'?
- My best electronic toy is my I-Mac Apple Computer - when I am not crashing it.
- What book are you reading at the moment?
- The books I am reading, or have just finished are: "The First World War" by John Keegan (not quite as good as his "The Second World War", which in turn is not nearly as good a read as Churchill's fabulous six volume "History of the Second World War"). I have just also read "Words and Rules; The Ingredients of Language", by Steven Pinker, and "Call it Sleep" by Henry Roth.
- Why did you get in involved in GastroHep.com?
- I became involved with GastroHep.com because it was an offer from Roy Pounder that I could not refuse, and accepted with pleasure because GastroHep.com is the place to be for an active academic gastroenterologist.