June 25, 1932, Berlin, Germany
Clark Blatteis, professor of physiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, is interviewed in this segment of “Living History of Physiology” by APS Executive Director Dr. Martin Frank. Dr. Blatteis has an outstanding career of more than 50 years focusing on the pathophysiology of fever and how the body’s physiological processes respond to noxious effects of infectious agents.
Dr. Blatteis was born in Germany, but grew up during the Nazi uprising. As a Jewish family, the Blatteis’ were forced to move around a lot, but they lived in Berlin during Kristallnacht, known in English as the “Night of Broken Glass.” This was a series of attacks on Jewish synagogues and homes for two nights in 1938. Dr. Blatteis’ father was arrested, and he and his family were forced to leave Berlin as refugees, traveling for about a month on the MS St. Louis, a German ocean liner that tried to find homes for 937 German Jewish refugees after they were denied entry to Cuba. The film “Voyage of the Damned” is based off of this event, in which Dr. Blatteis was part of firsthand. Dr. Blatteis was young at the time, however, and he says he was naïve about the situation and was actually quite happy sailing around the world. He and his family ended up in Belgium, but the Germans bombarded the country soon after, forcing them flee to France, and ultimately Morocco.
Dr. Blatteis’ family’s American visa came through in 1948, and he ended up receiving his bachelor’s degree from Rutgers University, followed by an academic stint at University of Iowa to avoid being drafted to the American military. There, he worked with Steve Horvath until he completed his degree. He was eventually drafted, after again asking for a delay because he met the woman he wanted to marry. In the Army, he was classified as scientific and professional personnel after an infantry stint. He was assigned to Ft. Knox to the U.S. Army Medical Research Laboratory studying the effect of heat exposure on soldiers. He was then assigned to look at the effect of extreme cold temperatures on soldiers, but he was relocated to Greenland where laboratories in mountainsides were having carbon monoxide problems. Dr. Blatteis said it was one of the easiest problems he had ever solved, as soldiers were getting sick because of poor ventilation.
Dr. Blatteis’ first publication was on shivering and it was featured in the American Journal of Physiology. Throughout the next several years, he had 11 more publications, but he says none were as outstanding as the first one. He decided after completing his military duty to obtain postdoctoral education. He also wanted an excuse to go to Peru and meet his in-laws for the first time. Therefore, because Peru is well-known for the Andes mountain range, he decided to study whether altitude acclimatization was an inherited or acquired trait.
When he and his wife left Peru, they went to Liverpool where Dr. Blatteis continued his research, and focused on the defective hypoxia of metabolic responses to the cold of neonates. It was known that hypoxia reduced the metabolic response to cold, and he was part of two ongoing studies that dealt with the demonstration that neonates produce energy by shivering. Dr. Blatteis ended up at the University of Tennessee after his final re-assignment in the military, and it was here that he developed an interest in the pathophysiology of fever. He was assigned a graduate student, and together they completed the first study about defective hypoxia on fever. The article was published in the Journal of American Physiology, and focused on how fever is generated and what signals form in the periphery to tell the brain to develop a fever.
Highlights of his research include: it is actually Prostaglandin to trigger a fever response, not cytokines; Norepinephrine deals with regulation of body temperature, and activate Alpha-1 receptors, causing them to retain heat, which then catalyzes the production of Prostaglandin in the brain, accounting for second of two phases that characteristically describe fever; and finally that another mediator called nitric oxide, already shown to be antipyretic in brain, modulates the release of norepinephrine.
Dr. Blatteis says his personal perspective is if someone is really interested in a problem and wants to solve it, they really cannot begin to get the right kinds of answers until they know what kinds of questions they should be asking. The progress of a solution to a problem is accelerated as they get more experience behind them. Dr. Blatteis’ recent research is switching from hypothesized to discovery-based; applying the knowledge he has learned over the years to a new problem: the anthrax attack and defense mechanisms to pathogenic agents of bioterrorism.