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Sunday, March 21, 1999 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Dr. Russell Ross Made Important Discoveries About Atherosclerosis

Seattle Times Staff Reporter

Dr. Russell Ross, a University of Washington professor who found that overactive growth cells in injured arteries cause heart attack and stroke, leaves a legacy that will stimulate new atherosclerosis prevention and therapy strategy for years to come, colleagues says.

Dr. Ross died Thursday (March 18) of complications following surgery for cancer. He was 69.

He made many major research discoveries relating to atherosclerosis.

He also had been the chairman of the UW Department of Pathology and served as associate dean for scientific affairs.

"His accomplishments so dramatically shaped cardiovascular research that he was often mentioned as a potential Nobel Prize recipient," said Paul Ramsey, vice president for medical affairs and dean of the UW School of Medicine.

As long ago as 1973, Dr. Ross theorized that when protective cells lining arteries are injured, they over-repair themselves, forming patches that clog arteries. Later research showed that a chemical imbalance between blood and artery cells also can start the process.

He identified the platelet-dependent factor that stimulates the growth of abnormal cells and the migration of smooth-muscle cells to arterial lesions. That growth factor has been found in cancer cells.

"Dr. Ross was an original thinker whose ideas and research results guided most of the important work done in the past 25 years in atherosclerosis," said Nelson Fausto, professor and chair of the UW Department of Pathology.

"He was also an outstanding lecturer and teacher. He trained many postdoctoral fellows who went on to have distinguished careers."

Dr. Ross was a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences. His honors included the American Heart Association National Research Achievement Award. He had held lectureships at universities in North America, Asia and Europe, and was past president of the American Society for Investigative Pathology.

Born in St. Augustine, Fla., he graduated from Cornell University in 1951. He earned a dentistry degree from Columbia University in 1955.

"He wasn't as fond of dentistry as he hoped and went back into a Ph.D. program," said his son, Douglas Ross, a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University.

Dr. Ross came to the UW as a graduate student in the Experimental Pathology Program. In 1962, he earned a doctorate in pathology. He subsequently studied cell culture as a Guggenheim fellow at the Strangeways Institute in England, became a permanent fellow of Clare Hall at Cambridge University, then returned to the UW to teach and do research.

A humanitarian who enjoyed his family and was active in the community, he served 12 years on the Seattle Symphony board of trustees.

"Music meant a great deal to him," said his wife of 43 years, Jean Teller Ross of Seattle. "He had played piano when he was younger."

Also surviving is a daughter, Valerie Ross, a family therapist in Seattle.

Remembrances may go to the Seattle Symphony, P.O. Box 21906, Seattle, WA 98111, or to the Department of Pathology at the University of Washington School of Medicine, Box 357470, Seattle, WA 98195.

A memorial service is pending.

Carole Beers' phone-message number is 206-464-2391. Her e-mail address is: cbeers@seattletimes.com

Copyright (c) 1999 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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