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Former NHLBI Deputy Frommer Dies

Dr. Peter L. Frommer, former longtime NHLBI deputy director who retired in 1997, died Mar. 7 after a stroke. He had been battling cancer for 3 years.

Frommer was a pioneer in biomedical engineering. He served as NHLBI deputy director for 20 years — the cap to a distinguished 36-year federal career that included an appointment as a Public Health Service assistant surgeon general, or rear admiral.

"I knew Peter for 32 years and he was both a colleague and a friend," said NHLBI director Dr. Claude Lenfant. "He was someone you could always rely on. He was knowledgeable, far-sighted, innovative and dedicated. He was committed not just to getting the job done but to getting it done in the best way possible.

Dr. Peter L. Frommer

"His achievements are numerous," Lenfant added, "and his influence will continue to be felt for a long time. He was involved in some of the most important research undertaken by the institute. He helped create programs in myocardial infarction and new approaches to research that brought together basic and clinical studies."

"I knew him for almost 30 years and he was wonderful to work with," said Dr. Lawrence Friedman, special assistant to the director. "His contributions to the institute and to science were many and range broadly. A key one was his involvement in the methodological aspects of clinical trials. We had many discussions through the years about the design and interpretation of clinical trials. He also was instrumental in the institute's collaborations with private industry, particularly in clinical trials.

"He was a much-respected colleague. I can't put into words how greatly he will be missed," said Friedman.

"I met Pete in 1960, shortly after I arrived at what was then the National Heart Institute," recalled Dr. Robert Levine, professor of internal medicine and co-chair of the Yale University interdisciplinary program in bioethics. "We were in different laboratories and started out mostly as social friends, playing chess. With time, I left the NIH and he stayed on, but we remained close.

"Pete was always very concerned about getting all the research done in a way that was highly responsive to people's needs," Levine continued. "He was very much a people person and that was one of the reasons why the institute took the lead in the protection of human subjects in trials and the creation of data and safety monitoring boards. Pete wanted to keep ethics involved in research planning and we had many talks about that and other policy issues.

"There were times when he was under a lot of stress but he never complained," added Levine. "He was always upbeat and good-natured."

Frommer was born in Budapest in 1932, and he and his family left Hungary in 1939, moving first to Australia, then to Chicago, and finally to Cincinnati.

He earned a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering in 1954 and, 4 years later, an M.D. from Harvard Medical School.

In 1959, he joined the National Heart Institute's intramural Laboratory of Technical Development. In 1961, he returned to the University of Cincinnati for a residency in internal medicine at the medical center. But, a few years later, he rejoined NHI as a senior investigator and attending physician in the intramural Cardiology Branch, where he helped establish biomedical engineering as a tool for research in cardiology.

In 1966, Frommer moved to the extramural side and the next year became chief of the Myocardial Infarction Branch. His achievements there included helping to set up research programs on the prevention of sudden death and to create a program on myocardial infarction that led to the establishment of myocardial infarction research units.

In 1973, he became associate director for cardiology in the newly created Division of Heart and Vascular Diseases. He helped reorient the U.S. artificial heart program from radioisotope-powered systems to focus on electrically energized cardiac assist and replacement devices. He also helped lay the groundwork for the coronary artery surgery study, which compared the long-term results of coronary bypass surgery to those of medical treatment of ischemic heart disease.

In 1978, he became NHLBI deputy director. After retiring in 1997, Frommer continued to be involved in various projects as deputy director emeritus, including the initiation of clinical trials.

He is survived by his wife Ellen, four children and 11 grandchildren.

NCI Mourns Loss of Epidemiologist Thomas

Dr. Terry Thomas, a senior staff scientist at the National Cancer Institute and a leading contributor to studies of radiation health effects in the former Soviet Union, died of cancer Mar. 3 at her home in Silver Spring. She was 53.

Thomas is remembered for her "natural talent for epidemiology and her deep commitment to public health," said Dr. Joseph Fraumeni, director of NCI's Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics. "She became a scientific ambassador for NIH over the past few years, working closely with a variety of scientists from several countries on a very complex epidemiological investigation into the Chernobyl disaster," he said. "She renewed and invigorated the project at a critically important time, and we are deeply indebted to her."

Dr. Terry Thomas

Thomas began her career at NCI in 1971, shortly after graduating from the University of Colorado in Boulder with a degree in sociology. While employed as a statistical assistant in NCI's Epidemiology Branch, she went on to obtain a master's degree in biostatistics at Georgetown University in 1977 and a doctoral degree in occupational health from Johns Hopkins University in 1986.

"She had a lot of drive," said Dr. Gilbert Beebe, NCI scientist emeritus. "She was a very determined lady and an incredible worker."

Thomas's early NCI research focused on occupational cancer, particularly brain cancer among petrochemical workers and lung cancer related to silica and talc exposure.

"Those were the early days of trying to integrate industrial hygiene and epidemiological studies," said Dr. Robert Hoover, director of NCI's Epidemiology and Biostatistics Program. "Terry was one of the pioneers in integrating better measurements of what people were exposed to on the job. She was tenacious, combining good, sound epidemiology skills with the ability to work with a variety of people to get the job done."

In 1987, Thomas left NCI to join the Department of Veterans Affairs where she studied the effects of Agent Orange on Vietnam War veterans. Four years later, she joined the Department of Energy and began research on the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear disaster in the former Soviet Union.

"Throughout her career, Terry had a propensity for taking on epidemiology where it's not so easy to do — in submarines and Chernobyl," said Dr. Trisha Hartge, NCI deputy director of epidemiology and biostatistics. "If the answers demanded you go to the ends of the earth and be uncomfortable getting there, she'd do it. She was profoundly interested in getting answers in a practical and careful way."

Thomas continued to explore the effects of radiation throughout her career, joining several international study groups researching occupational and radiation health issues.

That interest brought her back to NCI in 1999, where she played a vital leadership role in reshaping the Collaborative Chernobyl Research Program.

"Dr. Thomas traveled extensively, investigating leukemia among the men tasked with cleaning up Chernobyl and thyroid cancer among children," Beebe said. "She worked overseas with such spirit; she will be tremendously missed by her many friends and colleagues in Russia, Belarus and Ukraine. She contributed so much to the program."

Thomas was also a dedicated educator. From 1994 to 1999, she was an associate professor and division director at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda. While there, she conducted research on the health of submariners. She also taught courses at George Washington University and Georgetown University Medical School.

"Terry loved epidemiology and she communicated that enthusiasm to her students," said her husband, Dr. Mike Radtke, of the Center for Scientific Review. "Just days before she died, she was signing off on the thesis cover sheets sent to her by her students. She worked right up until the end. If she said she'd do something, she got it done."

Thomas coauthored or authored more than 30 peer-reviewed journal articles. She was a fellow of the American College of Epidemiology. Her private pursuits included travel, gourmet food, gardening and aerobic exercise. She was an aerobics instructor for more than a decade and walked the 60-mile Avon Breast Cancer Three-Day Walk in 2000.

She is survived by her husband, of Silver Spring, Md.; stepchildren Alesia Booth of Sykesville, Md. and Matthew Radtke of Urbana, Md.; her mother, Marjorie Duel of Columbia, Md.; and two sisters, Deborah Padgett of Newport News, Va. and Pamela Herbert of Fairfax, Va.

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