In Memoriam: Clark D. West, MD, Pioneer in Pediatric Nephrology

July 4, 1918 -- January 11, 2014

Thursday, January 16, 2014

When Clark Darwin West, MD, earned his medical degree, pediatric nephrology was not yet a recognized specialty. He became a pioneer and internationally recognized leader in the emerging field. Dr. West died Saturday, January 11, 2014. He was 95.

Dr. West was born July 4, 1918, in Jamestown, New York. He might have been a farmer, like others in his family, but his mother insisted he choose another profession. He chose medicine — a fortunate decision for Cincinnati Children’s and countless children who have benefited from his work.

Dr. West earned his MD at the University of Michigan in 1943. After his residency and two years in the US Army Medical Corp, he began a relationship with Cincinnati Children’s that spanned 65 years.

He arrived at 1948 to begin a research fellowship and joined the faculty in 1951. He established the Division of Physiological Chemistry in 1953. It was renamed Nephrology in 1973. Dr. West led the division for 36 years.

Although he retired in 1989, he didn’t stop working. He came to Cincinnati Children’s daily to conduct research, publishing his last two papers in 2008, when he was 90.

Dr. West’s long, distinguished career was marked by many achievements. He was on the team that performed the first kidney transplant in Ohio, in 1965. As associate director of the Cincinnati Children’s Research Foundation, he often was entrusted with writing important grant proposals that helped shape the development of the research program at the medical center.

Fifty years ago, Dr. West wrote the proposal that won $2.5 million from the National Institutes of Health to launch the Clinical Research Center, and he selected William Schubert, MD, to be its first director (Dr. Schubert, who died in 2012, would go on to become chairman of pediatrics, president and CEO of Cincinnati Children’s). A few years later, Dr. West and pediatric chair Edward Pratt, MD, wrote the proposal that won funding for the second research building at Cincinnati Children’s, the Institute for Developmental Research (IDR).

Not only did Dr. West have a guiding hand in expanding research at Cincinnati Children’s, he made important research contributions through his own work.

His early research was on renal physiology, but over time he switched his focus to the new field of immunology because it was becoming apparent that many renal diseases were of immune origin. “The switch was not without a lot of retooling, not only of the laboratory, but also of my brain,” he said in reflections he wrote a month ago. “I have, however, never regretted the decision.”

With his new focus, Dr. West did breakthrough research on a number of kidney diseases but is best known for his work on glomerulonephritis. Although the disease was first identified in the 1800s, little progress had been made for 120 years. In collaboration with pathologist James McAdams, Dr. West developed new tests that allowed him to name and classify a distinct form of glomerulonephritis, and he went on to develop a successful treatment, a therapy that is still used.

Thanks to these achievements many children have been spared having to have a kidney transplant.

Camille Graham, MD, executive community physician leader, says that residents and fellows remember Dr. West as “the one who taught us all about physiology and electrolyte balance in children. He was a renowned clinician, but always made time to answer questions, even from first-year residents, during lunch in the doctors’ cafeteria.”

In a video interview in November 2013, Dr. West said he was proud of Cincinnati Children’s today, and believed the medical center was becoming “a national treasure.”

Dr. West was a resident of Harrison, Ohio.

Contact Information

Terry Loftus