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E. Edward Bittar

Published On: May 08 2013 06:06:48 AM CDT

MADISON E. Edward Bittar, died on April 25, 2013, in Madison. He was 84 years old. In 1947, a 19-year- old Edward Bittar was at his dentist's office in Tel-Aviv, reading a copy of National Geographic, when he came across an article describing Colby College in the United States. Whatever that article contained, it was enough for him. A few months later, he was on board the boat, the Marine Carp, headed for Colby College, in Waterville, Maine. After graduating from Colby College, he began his medical studies at Yale University School of Medicine where he earned a degree in medicine (MD), as well as the William Osler Medal in the History of Medicine. He served for two years in the United States Navy as a Lieutenant Commander, and then completed his training in nephrology at the District of Columbia General Hospital, in Washington, D.C., where he developed an interest in research. As a young Research Fellow at the National Institute of Health, he showed his talent for scientific writing early on by publishing a book on Cell ph. He then received a Fulbright Professorship, that took him to Damascus, Syria in 1963. The following year he moved to England to work at the University of Bristol, under the late Peter Caldwell. Here, he did pioneering work focused on single cells. It was at Bristol that he acquired and further developed the techniques of cannulation and micro-injection of single fibers, a technique he would use extensively for years to come. His first discoveries concerned the functioning of the sodium pump of the cell membrane. The next three years were spent as a Wellcome Trust Fellow at Oxford and Cambridge Universities, where he continued to investigate the mechanisms of sodium pumping in single living cells. His pioneering work was soon recognized and, in 1968, he returned to the United States to take up an offer as Associate Professor of Physiology at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. After only two years his stellar record was recognized by an early promotion to the rank of full Professor.

At Wisconsin, his research continued on single muscle fibers. A striking set of observations first made in 1974 was that whereas barnacle muscle fibers were insensitive to external application of aldosterone, they could be rendered sensitive to the steroid in physiological concentrations as low as nanomolar by pre-exposing overnight the intact barnacle to a large dose of the steroid. The response that followed to external application of aldosterone was characteristically delayed and diphasic, and accompanied by a raised ATP content. He then turned to examine pollution problems such as those due to aluminum (AL) and the insecticide penta-chlorophenol. Injection of aluminum inhibited both the ouabain and ouabain insensitive components of the Na efflux whilst the cytotoxicity of penta-chlorophenol was related to a rise in the internal free calcium concentration, as indicated by the photoprotein aequorin, which is a calcium indicator. Work was also carried out on the effect of cyclic AMP on stimulating Na efflux by activating cyclic dependent protein kinase and showing that acidification of the bathing medium stimulated sodium and chloride efflux.

Over his entire career of more than 29 years, Edward Bittar was an inspiring mentor to many generations of graduate and post graduate students, as well as visiting scientists. During each summer, he generously spent a considerable amount of time with undergraduate students whom he introduced to the fascinating world of research. A major focus of his career was his teaching of Ph.D. and graduate students in renal and cell membrane physiology. Many a foreign student who started their studies with the intention to merely obtain an MD degree and return to their home countries to practice medicine, had their interest rekindled and intensified, discovered research, and eventually earned doctorate degrees, which in turn afforded them positions in higher education and aided their stay in this country, changing their life forever.

His published papers were important and numerous but he did not stop there. Sharing his knowledge was one of his passions. The number of books and volumes he authored or edited exceeds one hundred. He was especially proud of the six-volume work, The Biological Basis of Medicine, published by the Academic Press in London, which involved the cooperation of his brother, Dr. Neville Bittar, who is Professor Emeritus of Medicine at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Dr. Bittar was an avid reader of current scientific literature as well as biographical books, and books of philosophy and poetry. His encyclopedic knowledge spanned many realms beyond his own research areas including history, arts, geography and politics. He was born in Jaffa, Israel on Oct. 12, 1928 and educated at Brummanna High School in Lebanon (which was run by British Quakers) and the Bishop Gobat School in Jerusalem, before coming to America. He was one of the first foreign students at Colby College.

In 1961, he married Irmgard Haack of Berlin, Germany with whom he had four children: Anna, Edward, Jeannette and Cynthia. He is also survived by six grandchildren. A man of Arab and Jewish roots, who married a German woman, Edward Bittar was a living proof that ethnic harmony is possible, even in this day and age. In spite of his very intense and productive professional life, he always found the time to be a loving and dedicated father. Among many other things, weekend trips to the Zoo and the Italian grocery store will forever remain part of the wonderful childhood that he offered to his four children. He was a model of compassion and generosity, opening his door to anybody and everybody, and never turning down an open hand asking for help. "I serve" was his lifetime creed, and as Albert Schweizer said "I do not know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones amongst you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve." E. Edward Bittar: all those who knew you, loved you, and are grateful for your having enriched their lives.

A memorial service will be held at a later date.

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