David Kritchevsky dies

Expert in cholesterol and dietary fats was 86

Dec 5, 2006
Cathy Tran
David Kritchevsky, one of the first scientists to study the link between cholesterol, cardiovascular risk, and cancer, died on November 20. He was 86.In 1958, Kritchevsky published the first book on cholesterol which "was and still in a lot of ways is the bible about what we understand about the cholesterol," Jon Story of Purdue University, who worked with Kritchevsky as a post-doc at The Wistar Institute, told The Scientist.While many researchers solely study the effect of one chemical, such as cholesterol, on atherosclerosis, ignoring how nutrient levels interact, said Story, Kritchevsky did not take a piecemeal approach: For example, in 1977, he reported that animal and vegetable proteins have different effects on atherosclerosis in rabbits based on which kind of fiber is in the diet.Kritchevsky didn't stop at the rabbits, however, and reminded others to not "go down esoteric rabbit trails of scientific endeavor and forget the big picture and how things fit together and what it meant to humans," said Story.We've lost a "voice of common sense," Story said. "He was a synthesizer and close to being a lone wolf in his ability to take a look at everything."Kritchevsky's 1996 paper showing that saturated fat may be as equally harmful as trans fat influenced dietary guidelines, Connie Weaver, a member of the US Health and Human Services and Department of Agriculture 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans committee, told The Scientist. Although trans fat was the "hot thing" that made headlines, the committee emphasized in their report that saturated fat should not increase to compensate for the recommended reduction of trans fats, Weaver said.In an interview in 2005 with The New York Times, Kritchevsky called trans fat fears "the panic du jour" and "an easy whipping boy." He was "media-genic" and "did not hesitate to speak out to distinguish nutrition facts from nutrition hype," Elizabeth Whelan, president of American Council on Science and Health, told The Scientist in an email. Kritchevsky also emphasized that "meat is not poison" as his work showed that conjugated linoleic acid in beef had anti-cancer effects, according to Richard Rivlin, the director of the Anne Fischer Nutrition Center.Kritchevky published more than 600 articles that spanned over 60 years, a career length that is "almost unheard of," said Eugene Garfield, founding editor of The Scientist. As of last year, he was one of only three US researchers to be a recipient of the same grant since John F. Kennedy was president. As chair of the Clinical Nutrition Research Unit at Strang Cancer Prevention Center, Kritchevsky helped to select its grant recipients. "He could always point out which were likely to succeed and which were a wild goose chase," Rivlin, the program director, told The Scientist. "He could recognize talent in young scientists." Rivlin attributes Kritchevsky's influence and strong instincts to his being "very bright, very well-read, and very dedicated to the field. He was always learning and you could not think of him as retiring in a rocking chair." As recently as September, Kritchevsky was senior author of a paper published online.Kritchevsky earned a PhD in organic chemistry from Northwestern University in 1949. He was a postdoctoral fellow in Leopold Ruzicka's laboratory at the Federal Research Institute in Switzerland and a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley before coming to the Wistar Institute in 1957, which he has been affiliated with since. He was also an emeritus professor of biochemistry at University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine.Weaver said Kritchevsky has "one of the sharpest wits and sense of humor" and recalled a time that he synthesized research that physical activity would help predict against cardiovascular disease and that red wine also had protective effects. His conclusion: "So I take it that we should run from bar to bar." Rivlin regarded him as "the life of the party." Kritchevsky was infamous for his science songs that included the "Cholesterol Biosynthesis Song" sung to the tune of "Jingle Bells" and "If I Had a Big Grant" sung to the tune of "If I Were a Rich Man." "He was admired as much for his wit as his erudition," said Rivlin.Kritchevsky is survived by his wife of 58 years, Evelyn, their children Barbara, Janice, and Stephen, and six grandchildren.Cathy Tran ctran@the-scientist.comLinks within this article:David Kritchevsky HistCite http://garfield.library.upenn.edu/histcomp/kritchevsky-d_auth/Jon Story http://www.cfs.purdue.edu/FN/directory/fsdir/consumer/directory.asp?mode=displayperson&name=63D. Kritchevsky et al, "Experimental atherosclerosis in rabbits fed cholesterol-free diets. Part 7. Interaction of animal or vegetable protein with fiber,"Atherosclerosis, 26: 397-403, 1977. http://www.the-scientist.com/pubmed/6682622E.B. Feldman et al., "Position paper on trans fatty acids," Am J Clin Nut, 63: 663-70, 1996. http://www.the-scientist.com/pubmed/ 8615347Connie Weaver http://www.cfs.purdue.edu/FN/directory/fsdir/consumer/directory.asp?mode=displayperson&name=15G. Kolata, "The Panic Du Jour: Trans Fats in Foods,"The New York Times, August 15, 2005. http://www.nytimes.com/2005/08/14/weekinreview/14kola.htmlElizabeth Whelan http://www.acsh.org/about/staffID.1/staff_detail.asp D. Kritchevsky et al, "Influence of conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) on establishment and progression of atherosclerosis in rabbits," J Am Coll Nutr, 19: 472S-477S, 2000. http://www.the-scientist.com/pubmed/10963467Richard Rivlin http://home.strang.org/Rivlin.shtmAnne Fischer Nutrition Center http://www.cancernutrition.orgM. Anderson, "A 44-year-old grant," The Scientist, March 14, 2005 http://www.the-scientist.com/article/display/15300Strang Cancer Prevention Center http://home.strang.orgCalvert et al., "Elevated K-ras activity with cholestyramine and lovastatin, but not konjac mannan or niacin in lung--Importance of mouse strain," Biochem Pharmacol, 72:1749-55, 2006. http://www.the-scientist.com/pubmed/17005160Leopold Ruzicka http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/chemistry/laureates/1939/ruzicka-bio.html "If I had a big grant" video http://www.wistar.org/research_facilities/kritchev/If%20I%20had%20a%20big%20Grant.mov