Frederic Crosby Bartter
Biography of Frederic Crosby Bartter
The missionary's son
Frederic Crosby Bartter was born to American-British parents in Manila, the Philippines, where his father was an English missionary. He grew up in a remote town, Baguio, where his earliest teachers were his father, his mother – who was a teacher by profession – and the priest of the near by monastery. At the age of 13 he was sent to the USA where he attended College and studied at Harvard Medical School, graduating M.D. 1940. He interned at the Roosevelt Hospital in New York, and during World War II he served with the US Public Health Service. From 1946 to 1951 he worked with Fuller Albright at the Endocrine Section at the Massachusetts General Hospital.
In 1951 he was appointed to the National Institute of Health, Bethesda, as leader of a group studying renal and endocrine diseases. In 1956 he was made director of the Endocrine-Hypertension Branch of NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. He remained with NIH until 1978, when he moved to San Antonio, Texas, and became Associate Chief of Staff for research at Veterans Medical Centre and professor at the University of Texas Health Science Center.
It was in connection with research on the regulation of blood pressure and processes of importance to hypertension in man, he discovered that he himself suffered from malignant hypertension. He died suddenly on May 5 1983, at 69 years of age, from a cerebral haemorrhage whilst at a conference at the NIH.
"Freddy" – the doer
The Swedish professor Rolf Luft describes his first meeting with Frederic C. Bartter:
- "In August 1946 I came from Montreal to Boston to work under Fuller Albright. Frederic Bartter, "Freddy", had by Albright been assigned to job of picking me up at the train and arrange things for me. The first impression was to remain – a very English American in tweed, pipe, and well polished, hand-sewn shoes of the type of long shafted jodhpurs. He arranged everything for me fast and efficiently, and afterwards took me to his home the same evening. He was a doer - there were things going on around him - though not unexpected ones, as so little was left to chance.
Nothing describes Bartter better as a scientist better than the concluding words of his obituary in the National Academy of Sciences of the USA, of which he was a member:
"The ability to perceive a disease in a set of slightly aberrant numbers, the unshakable faith that, in metabolic studies, what goes in must eventually come out, and the optimism that all is eventually discoverable - this is `Bartter's syndrome', and we are all the better for having been exposed to it.
In private he was also an intellectual, and besides that a seemingly extrovert person. He cared much for poetry and excelled by quoting from rote long sections of among others Shakespeare. He played the violin and was a good singer. It was common for his whole family rise and sing for its guests. he studied mathematics and philosophy, and both in conversations and writing advanced the thesis that what is lucidly said or written is clearly thought? In all this he was friendly and caring in his own way without any ado.
When he after a few days discovered that I, like so many Swedes but few Americans, enjoyed mushrooms and mushroom-plucking, he could not hide his joy. He drowned me in literature on American mycology.
Freddy's relationship to Albright was that of the gifted son. When I in 1951 got to know that he considered leaving Boston for the NIH, neither I nor most of our colleagues were much surprised. In the shadow of Fuller Albright Bartter would always be number two. He had to break out to create a profile of his own.
I have often thought of how similar, but though unequal Albright and Bartter were as scientists. Single-mindedness, fantasy, and knowledge they both possessed in abundance. Albright worked out an idea with his insights and his intellect without a glance at what other people might think. His experimental records therefore were different, exciting, offering many perspectives - and with a room for "failures" that in their turn might lead to other angles of approach. Freddy dealt with an idea with the literature in the field, which he studied in great detail. His experimental records therefore left nothing to chance, and 'failure' meant that the idea after some time was left to its fate. Bartter's syndrome illustrates this."
Another of Bartter's favourite fields of research was mushroom poisoning. He early became interested in wild mushrooms, and with his scientific attitude he soon became an expert in the field. He took pride in being able to classify more than 200 species, becoming a lecturer in mycology and an expert in diagnosis and treatment of amanita haloids-type mushroom poisoning. With Becker he introduced lipoid acid in the treatment, thus being able to save many – according to his own statistics 267 – from the life-threatening deterioration of the liver.
Bartter never worked alone, always in a group. he had a unique capacity for stimulating and guiding each one of his many associates, of which many were to become prominent representatives of modern endocrinology.
Frederic C. Bartter's research career is accounted for in more than 400 scientific articles.