In Memoriam, Spring '23
William C. E. Pfischner Jr.
Sept. 10, 1922—May 5, 2022
Serving on a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Mediterranean and at a research institute in Egypt, William Pfischner Jr. (MD ’48) had seen and experienced a ton before he returned stateside for the bulk of his medical career.
Pfischner, born into a working-class Pittsburgh family (his father was a steelworker), chronicled every moment of his days, down to where he ate ice cream abroad; his journal was buried with him just months before he would’ve turned 100. Beyond those adventures in his early years, he traveled around the world by air in 30 days and visited at least a dozen countries, from those in Europe and the Middle East to China and Japan.
After earning his MD and interning at West Penn Hospital, Pfischner served in the navy for 10 years, including two at the Philadelphia Naval Hospital before sailing on the USS Shenandoah as a medical officer and moving on to the U.S. Naval Medical Research Institute in Cairo. He also served at the Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
Pfischner earned a master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University and took a job with the City of Philadelphia, directing various health centers and teaching at Jefferson Medical College, which is now the Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. Retirement in 1983 saw Pfischner move to Florida before ultimately landing in Charlotte, North Carolina.
Pfischner had befriended Loy Witherspoon, renowned religious scholar and founding chair of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, during his time in Cairo. The pair became lifelong companions.
“They had a really great friendship and were like mentors—more like adopted grandfathers—to me,” says Sheri Williams, a UNC Charlotte graduate who got to know Pfischner and Witherspoon through the university.
Williams says Pfischner spoke of Pitt often: “He always held Pittsburgh near and dear to his heart.”
Philmore Hamil Crichlow
July 31, 1927—Dec. 4, 2022
While a resident at Mercy Hospital, Philmore Crichlow, MD (Res ’60), found himself at Pitt in the virology lab of Jonas Salk. The experience held professional importance for him, but also created an admiration for Salk that he talked about for the rest of his life.
Born on the island of Tobago in the West Indies, Crichlow immigrated to the United States in 1948 and enrolled at Howard University, where he earned his MD. He came to Pitt in 1956 and within months joined Salk’s lab.
“When he talked about his work in the lab, my dad spoke a lot about Dr. Salk himself, being an amazing leader and very fair-minded,” said Rudyard Crichlow, one of six Crichlow children. “He would say that Dr. Salk didn’t judge by the color of a person’s skin, but by the content of their character.”
Rudyard and his sister, Jeanne Crichlow, say one of the stories their father told perfectly illustrates the point. It involved the arrest of a young Black woman who worked in Salk’s lab and how Salk intervened to get her out of jail.
As the Crichlows tell it: The woman had a painful wound on her arm. On her way home from the lab one night not long after she was hurt, police approached her because she was on the street late. One of the officers grabbed her by the arm, and she immediately pulled it away because of the pain. That led to her being taken to jail for resisting arrest.
The woman called Salk from jail and asked for help. “He ended up going there in the middle of the night to get her out,” says Rudyard.
He says Salk’s influence rubbed off on his dad.
“For me, it was all about his integrity,” Rudyard says of his father’s character and concern for others. “He stood for what he thought was right.”
Crichlow spent 55 years as an internist, caring for patients in Pittsburgh and Tobago and making sure they enjoyed the best quality of life possible.
“I worked for him for four years, and he was one of the most ethical people I’ve ever known,” says Jeanne. “He was caring, compassionate and a man of great faith who was always teaching and inspiring others.”
Sept. 21, 1973—Aug. 27, 2022
Being the guy who invented the molecular sniping rifle sounds like something a gaming developer might put on his résumé, but it’s the kind of notoriety that sets you apart in the realm of biomedical science, not in fantasy warfare.
Marcel Bruchez, a PhD, created the molecular sniping tool, also referred to as the fluorogen activating protein (FAP), though the contribution was only one of many in his impressive career as a scientist and technologist, cut short by brain cancer. His colleagues at Pitt Med described him as a master craftsman determined to solve complex problems.
“There are people who build tools to answer questions, and people who build tools and then look for questions to answer,” says Simon Watkins, a PhD, Distinguished Professor and vice chair in the Department of Cell Biology. “It’s a very important difference, and a lot of people in chemistry and physics and optics build all sorts of clever things. But they’ve got no idea what they’re using them for until they find the right question. Marcel would meet with us, and we would come up with problems we were trying to solve, and Marcel would design solutions that solved a lot of these problems.”
To apply oxidative damage to a specific site within the cell, Marcel Bruchez developed a system that fuses a fluorogen-activating protein (FAP) to another protein. The FAP becomes fluorescent when it binds to a dye and when illuminated by red light, produces a tiny singlet oxygen “bomb.” Bruchez, with Pitt’s Ben Van Houten and Edward Burton, was part of a team that used the system to target oxygen damage to mitochondria in cells and ablate mitochondrial function in zebra fish embryos. Patty Opresko’s lab at Pitt used the system to produce a specific type of mitochondrial DNA damage only in telomeres, the ends of chromosomes. The result? They learned that cancer cells were not affected by a few lesions on their telomeres; however normal cells were (they underwent senescence). Van Houten says these breakthroughs contribute to our understanding of how resistant cancer cells can be, and how, in other cells, crippled mitochondria can cause problems, like causing cellular dysfunction with age. The FAPs that Bruchez developed are incredibly versatile, Van Houten notes. “Think of a Swiss Army knife for cell biologists.”
Shown above: Green shows FAP labeling within mitochondria; red shows the endoplasmic reticulum. Images: Courtesy Mike Calderon, Department of Cell Biology and Center for Biologic Imaging.
Working under a primary appointment at Carnegie Mellon University as a professor of chemistry and of biological sciences, Bruchez collaborated regularly with researchers at Pitt Med and held an appointment at Pitt in cell biology. He arrived at CMU in 2006 after launching Quantum Dot Corporation, which was later acquired by the company Invitrogen.
Bruchez was the recipient of the Rank Prize in Optoelectronics and held more than 30 patents that have been licensed to six companies. He was inducted as a fellow into the National Academy of Inventors in 2022. One of his papers has been cited more than 11,000 times. (He liked to say his favorite “invention” was his child, Leo, who is now a teenager.)
“I’m 64, and I know a lot of scientists,” says Ben Van Houten, Pitt’s Richard M. Cyert Professor of Molecular Oncology and professor of pharmacology and chemical biology. “Marcel was a rare genius who had this exceptional ability to understand the problem.”
Julie Heinrich, who met Bruchez in 1996 and married him in 2002, says, “He was our rock. He was steady and trustworthy; he was just a great friend, to me and to everyone he knew.”
William C. E. Pfischner Jr., MD ’48
Walter Foster, MD ’57
Martin Meyer, MD ’56
Milton Michaels, MD ’54, Res ’55
Alan Morgan, MD ’57
Charles Tripoli, MD ’55
Philmore Hamil Crichlow Res ’60
Albert William Dibbins, Fel ’67
Anthony J. Gialamas, Res ’60
George Goldsand, Res ‘67
Charles Krifcher, Res ’65
E. Leon Barnes Jr., Res ’72
Paul E. Berkebile, Res ’71
Fred Berkowitz, Res ’72
Virginia Lackman Billian, Res ’72
George Fatula, MD ’71, Res ’74
Steven Howard Hoyme, Res ’75
Calvin Neithamer Jr., MD ’77
James Raymond, MD ’74
Allan Bert Schachter, Res ’72
Jean-Michel Loubeau, Res ’75
Joseph Matthew Zeterberg, Fel ’74
James Duggan, MD ’80
William J. Forstate, Fel ’84
Kam Fai Pang, MD ’85
Warren Smith, MD ’81
Michele A. Moro, Res ’94
Demetrios Patrinos, DMD ’97, MD ’97, Res ’99
Gregory H. Tatum, Res ’06
Marcel Bruchez, PHD
Martica Hall, PHD
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