Dr. James A. Shannon, led expansion of NIH

May 24, 1994|By DeWitt Bliss | DeWitt Bliss,Sun Staff Writer

Dr. James A. Shannon, director of the National Institutes of Health from 1955 until 1968, died Friday of a ruptured aortic aneurysm at Church Home, the East Baltimore retirement community where he had lived since October. He was 89.

During the period that Dr. Shannon headed the NIH in Bethesda, funding grew from $83 million to $1.394 billion; and programs for building research facilities, training researchers and supporting research at academic institutions were developed.

Under his leadership, research at NIH was increased and new institutes were established, including Child Health and Human Development, Environmental Health Sciences and General Medical Sciences. He emphasized fundamental research over applied and developmental work.

Dr. Thomas J. Kennedy Jr., retired NIH associate director for program planning and evaluation, called his former colleague as "a giant, an incredible man. In his prime, I never saw anything like him and everybody who worked with him felt that way."

Dr. Kennedy especially praised Dr. Shannon's "extraordinary vision," prompted by the successful scientific research programs during World War II, that the government was the only institution that could finance research at needed levels.

Born in New York City, Dr. Shannon was a 1925 graduate of the College of the Holy Cross and a 1929 graduate of the New York University medical school.

After a residency in internal medicine at Bellevue Hospital, he joined the faculty at NYU and did research on the kidney and kidney disease.

In 1941, he became director of NYU's research service at Goldwater Memorial Hospital, a newly opened chronic disease hospital in New York that became the center for the clinical evaluation of drugs to replace quinine as an anti-malarial drug. During World War II, the drugs, such as Atabrine, played a part in the defeat of the Japanese, who had occupied the major quinine-producing areas in Southeast Asia.

He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor in 1949 by President Harry Truman for that work and later was cited for other work by Presidents Lyndon B. Johnson and Gerald R. Ford.

In 1946, he became director of the Squibb Institute for Medical Research and stimulated the production and marketing of streptomycin, an antibiotic, by the parent company, E.R. Squibb & Sons, of which he was a vice president.

In 1949, he was named associate director for research of the new National Heart Institute and, in 1952, became head of internal research at all NIH institutes.

Among the early staff members he recruited were two future Nobel Prize winners and two future directors of the NIH.

After he retired in 1968 as NIH director and assistant surgeon general of the United States, he became an adviser to the president of the National Academy of Sciences. He retired again in 1975 as a professor at Rockefeller University.

Dr. Shannon was the author of about 100 published professional papers and a contributor to many works on the administration of research programs, public policy on science and education and the relationship between government and academic institutions.

He was a member of 10 professional societies and received honorary doctorates from 20 universities in the United States and abroad.

Dr. Shannon won many awards, including the Public Welfare Medal of the National Academy of Sciences, the Rockefeller Public Service Award, the Abraham Flexner Award of the Association of American Medical Colleges and the Kober Medal of the Association of American Physicians.

He married a medical school classmate, Dr. Alice M. Waterhouse, who was a U.S. Public Health Center officer. She died in 1977.

A Mass of Christian burial for Dr. Shannon was to be offered at 10 a.m. today at the Roman Catholic Shrine of St. Jude in Rockville.

He is survived by a daughter, Dr. Alice Shannon-Stolzberg of Baltimore, clinical director of the Clifton T. Perkins State Hospital; a son, J. Anthony Shannon of Rockville; a sister, Miriam Satterlin of Glen Valley, Ariz.; 11 grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren.

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