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Irvin Modlin was born in Oudtshoorn, South Africa. He was educated in Cape Town, South Africa, Dublin, Ireland, and Leeds and London, England. He received an MB, ChB magna cum laude from the University of Cape Town in 1968 and was awarded Gold Medals for Surgery in 1975 by both the South African College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Surgeons of Edinburgh.
He subsequently studied gastrointestinal surgery, endocrine surgery, and endoscopy at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital, London, England (1975-77). Thereafter, he investigated gut physiology at the Centre for Ulcer Research Education at UCLA (1977-79) before moving to SUNY, New York (1980-83). In 1984, he was appointed Chief of Surgery at West Haven VAMC and Vice Chairman of the Department of Surgery at Yale University School of Medicine.
He is currently Professor of Surgery and Director of the Gastric Pathobiology Research Group at Yale University School of Medicine.
In 1987 he was awarded an MA (Hon. Causa) in literature by Yale University, and in 1989 a PhD in physiology from the University of Cape Town. In 1991 the University of Gothenberg, Sweden awarded him an MD (Hon. Causa).
Dr Modlin has delivered the Eisenberg Memorial lecture (Brigham and Women 1993), the I.N. Marks lecture (Johannesburg, 1994), the Jena Poyla Memorial Lecture (Semmelweis University, Budapest, 1995), the Arris and Gale lecture (Royal Postgraduate Medical School, 1995), and the Theodor Kocher Oration (Bern, 1996). In 1997, the Royal College of Surgeons of England awarded Dr Modlin a Hunterian Professorship, and in 1998 a Fellowship. In 1999, he delivered the Bayliss and Starling Memorial Lecture at Queen's University, Belfast, and in 2000 a Centenary Oration at the Japanese Surgical Society.
Current research interests include the elucidation of the growth factor mediated transformation process of the enterochromaffin-like cell (ECL) and the development of intravenous receptor targeted isotopic neuroendocrine tumor irradiation. His recent books include: "Laparoscopic Surgery", "From Prout to the Proton Pump", "Acid Related Disease: Biology and Treatment", "The History of Endoscopy", "The Logic of Omeprazole", and "The History of Gastroenterology". He has also written a series of medical travel and historical books on: Rome: "From Galen to Glory": Vienna: "From Billroth to Boas"; New Orleans: "Medicine on the Mississippi: and Washington Medicine: "Medical Milestones on the Potomac".
Dr Modlin's initial interest in the gastrointestinal tract was stimulated by his fascination with the process of malo-lactic fermentation. His focus on endoscopy was prompted by an early paternal exposure to the art of cystoscopy. His subsequent involvement in the art and science of oenology and gastronomy amplified his focus on visceral matters and pepsis. Cogniscant of Billroth's admonition that, "Only an individual familiar with the arts and science of the past is competent to define its progress in the future," he has sought to interface a knowledge of current surgery and science with the lessons of antiquity. As an ardent member of the Beaumont, Prout, and Athenaeum Clubs, his interest in the historical and scientific aspects of medicine spans the Atlantic and its bordering continents.
- What made you decide to become a gastroenterologist?
- I began my postgraduate training wishing to be a neurosurgeon, but after six months realized that the outcomes were so depressing that I should rather focus on an area where results were possible. I thus sought to fuse an interest in the nervous system with the gut, and began work in the brain/gut axis area. Since I considered diagnosis and pharmacological treatment in this area to be somewhat limiting, I then trained in gastrointestinal surgery and endoscopy. It seemed that a combination of information and action provided the best recipe of interest for me.
- Who was the teacher you admired the most?
- The teacher that I have admired most is Howard Spiro of Yale. An individual possessed of intellectual brilliance and philosophic knowledge, supported by an extraordinary database and most of all, common sense. A weaver of history, clinical medicine, and perspicuity, his panache, rhetoric, and diagnostic acumen are riveting to this very day.
- Which research paper influenced you the most?
- The research paper that influenced me most was the publication of the Croonian lecture delivered by Ernest Starling in 1902. The elegant simplicity of the experiment coupled with the extraordinary perspicuity in the interpretation of the results of one afternoon changed the entire understanding of the regulation of body function.
- What is the most important fact that you have discovered?
- The most important fact that I have discovered is that one can learn something from everybody. All people have story to tell and one simply has to be patient enough to identify the pearl within.
- What is the biggest mistake that you have made?
- The biggest mistake that I made was to delay addressing writing and the study of the history of philosophy and science until I was almost 40. It is now apparent to me that most of the research and almost all the clinical material that one uses can be richly amplified by an interface with the knowledge of the thoughts of the past.
- What is your unfulfilled ambition?
- My unfulfilled ambition is to write the evolution of the history of wine in the management of human disease.
- What is your greatest regret?
- My greatest regret is that I spent years in a surgical residency program rather than a membrane biology program, and as a result, I am certain, obliterated most of the creative segments of my mind at the expense of the insertion of endless ritualized neuronal pathways. I would much rather have invested those rigorous hours as a sous chef training at the "La Tour d'Argent" in Paris.
- How do you relax?
- I relax by cooking, imbibing large amounts of Bordeaux, and listening to Mozart violin concertos, while deluding myself that my veneer of pseudo-sophistication is not apparent to anybody other than my mother. My cooking skills are as marginal as my appreciation of the Mozart, but the wine allows me to deny the reality of any such possibility.
- What is your favorite sport?
- My favorite sport is playing squash and is only exceeded by my enthusiasm at exaggerating my absolute lack of talent.
- What is your best place in the world?
- The best place in the world is the kitchen cum dining room of the Chateau Vult d'Lugny in the Morvan region of Burgundy on a cool autumn evening.
- What is your favorite film?
- My favorite film in the world is "2001", as Arthur C. Clarke, Nitzche, and Hal (the robot) define the matrix of the millennium as epitomized by the spinning femur of a Neanderthal man gazing into the night sky of the Namibian desert.
- What car do you drive?
- I currently drive an XJS convertible, since I found that Porsche Carerras have a tendency to overturn when cornered at speeds greater than 100 miles an hour in snow.
- What is your best electronic 'toy'?
- My best electronic toy is my digital camera hooked up to my laptop and interfaced with Adobe 5.5. No image of person or place is safe from my nefarious intent.
- What book are you reading at the moment?
- I am currently reading "Essays in Science Medicine and History in honor of Charles Singer", but have had difficulty in putting down "Landscape and Memory" by Simon Schama, Francine du Plessix Gray's "At Home with Marquis de Sade" has its merits, but its repetitiveness is somewhat tedious.
- Why did you get in involved in GastroHep.com?
- I became involved with GastroHep.com because I was aware that its leader Roy Pounder was brilliant, prescient, and an entrepreneur of style and foresight. I rapidly realized that the opportunity to follow his lead could both enhance and amplify my penchant for a sybaritic gastroenterologic lifestyle. It also seemed like a lot of fun and likely to provide a great deal of intellectual excitement!