Mayo Clinic honors UH Manoa medical professor

Dr. Irwin Schatz bravely questioned Tuskegee experiment

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Posted: Aug 13, 2009

Dr. Irwin Schatz, who served as chair of the Department of Medicine and led the residency program at the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa‘s John A. Burns School of Medicine for more than two decades, is being honored as a medical hero this week by the famed Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Dr. Schatz will receive the Distinguished Alumni Award from the Mayo Clinic Board of Trustees on Friday, August 14, 2009. He graduated from the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine in 1961.

As a young physician, Dr. Schatz played a major role in helping to expose the injustice of The Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male, conducted between 1932 and 1972 in Tuskegee, Alabama. Subjects of the infamous research project were left untreated—even though, by the 1940‘s, penicillin had been validated as an effective treatment.

Dr. Schatz, then a 34-year-old cardiologist in Detroit, read a research paper about the study and sent a protest letter to the author at the Centers for Disease Control. In the early 1970‘s, a Wall Street Journal reporter discovered the letter and reported that Dr. Schatz was the only physician to have strongly complained about the unethical research.

Ultimately, his concern led to improved research methods, including the necessity for informed consent of research subjects and the protection of patients in clinical trials.

Dr. Schatz‘ criticism took bravery, according to Dr. David Robertson, Program Director for Clinical Research at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center. In a letter nominating Dr. Schatz for the Mayo honor, he wrote, "(Dr. Schatz) was a young physician at the time, and criticizing an investigation which was overseen by some of the leading figures in the American Public Health Service was an action that was, to say the very least, potentially harmful to his career."

At the UH medical school, Dr. Schatz was a major contributor to the Honolulu Heart Program, a landmark study with 44 years of follow-up in Japanese-American men in Hawaiʻi. Kuakini Medical Center has been the home of this internationally renowned study since 1965.

"The study has been a rich data base for investigators interested in human aging and cardiovascular disease in extreme old age," said Dr. Kamal Masaki, Acting Chair of Geriatric Medicine at the UH medical school. "Dr. Schatz continues to provide leadership and guidance to us at the John A. Burns School of Medicine."

Dr. Schatz‘ research interests are orthostatic hypotension and cardiovascular risk factors.
He has published almost 100 articles, and is still a scientifically productive faculty member.