Dr. Ostrow, Gastroenterology

Dr. J. Donald Ostrow, former professor of medicine and chief of the gastroenterology section in the department of medicine in what is now the Perelman School of Medicine, from 1970-1978, died January 10 at his home in Seattle, Washington, at the age of 83.

Dr. Ostrow was born January 1, 1930, in New York City. He was valedictorian at Bronx High School of Science and entered Yale University at age 16 where he was Phi Beta Kappa. He earned a BS in chemistry at Yale in 1950, then an MD at Harvard Medical School in 1954, interning at Johns Hopkins Hospital. After two years as a medical officer in the Navy, he did a residency at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.

Dr. Ostrow held many other faculty positions in addition to Penn: Harvard Medical School (1961-1962), Case-Western Reserve University (1962-1970), Northwestern University Medical School (1978-1995) and Albert-Ludwig’s Universität Freiburg, Germany (1988-1989). He was awarded emeritus status by Northwestern University in 1995. After retirement, he continued research and teaching opportunities at the University of Amsterdam (1995-1998) and the University of Washington (1999-2013). He remained academically active at the University of Washington, organizing and teaching the GI pathophysiology course until his death.

Dr. Ostrow "was an outstanding teacher and a real physician scientist which is rare these days among doctors," said Dr. Bruce Silverstein, clinical professor of medicine, University of Washington. "He had an encyclopedic knowledge of the medical literature."

Dr. Ostrow's impact on the field of gastroenterology is extensive. He served as chief of the gastroenterology section at Northwestern University and at two Veterans Administration Medical Centers. He served as president of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases from 1986-1987, was on the editorial board for five journals and on many committees and review panels. One of his passions was the Undergraduate Teaching Project that he developed with Dr. Martin Carey for the American Gastroenterological Association.

Dr. Cecile Webster, who was Dr. Ostrow's research laboratory assistant at the VA Hospital in Chicago, remembers his "mentoring of research fellows from foreign countries. Many people are in his debt for what he did to increase their knowledge and skills and to further their careers."

Dr. Ostrow will be best remembered for his research in bilirubin metabolism. He trained at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital and then with the Thorndike Liver Group under Dr. Rudi Schmid at Boston City Hospital. In 1970 he earned an MSc in biochemistry at University College, London. Dr. Ostrow "was among the few persons who understood back in the 1960s the importance and the pivotal role of the yellow pigment until then considered only as a waste product," said Dr. Claudio Tiribelli, director of the Liver Research Center, Trieste.

Dr. Ostrow's research efforts were supported almost continually from 1962-1995 by the NIH and the US Veterans Administration. He received awards from the William Beaumont Society and the Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation.

"Don worked tirelessly for more than 50 years on the biochemistry, metabolism and pathophysiology of bilirubin," said Dr. Jim Boyer, Ensign Professor of Medicine, Yale University. "His major contributions probably lie in defining the mechanisms of neurotoxicity of unconjugated and unbound fractions of bilirubin; the mechanisms by which phototherapy was beneficial to the newborn with jaundice and the etiology of pigment gallstones."

Dr. Tiribelli added, "Taking advantage of his double scientific background (chemical and medical), Don combined a double physiochemical and clinical approach to the study of bilirubin. This allowed him to achieve unique and unmatched discoveries and made Don one of the first real translational researchers."

Dr. Ostrow leaves behind an extensive list of collaborators, both US and international, and a prodigious publication bibliography. He authored 78 research articles dating back to 1959, 28 editorials and review articles and 32 book chapters. "He was the world's most knowledgeable scientist on bilirubin in all its aspects," said Dr. Bert Groen, professor of systems biology, University Medical Center, Groningen, Netherlands. "He completely understood the amazing complexity of bilirubin physiology and physical chemistry, a rare combination indeed."

He is survived by his wife, Judy; brother, Stephen; children, George, Bruce and Margaret Murray; his niece, Michele Ostrow; and four grandchildren.