Gordon Klein, M.D., MPH
Institution: University of Texas Medical Branch
Research focus: Mechanisms of bone loss using burns as a model
ASBMR positions: Advocacy Committee 2000-2003, JBMR Editorial Board, 2008-2012; Education Committee 2013-present
What brought you to the bone field and why have you stayed?
My interests in nutritional physiology during my fellowships brought me to an odd situation at UCLA. My research project assigned to me was to investigate the reasons for crippling bone pain experienced by elderly patients receiving long-term parenteral nutrition. I objected that I knew nothing about elderly people and even less about bones. I was told that I had to either initiate this project or be assigned to a lab making motility tubes, an activity I detested.
I was put in contact with the person who was to introduce me to the bone field, Jack W Coburn, a professor of internal medicine and director of nephrology at the VA Hospital of West Los Angeles. Jack was a demanding mentor but he was very kind to me, probably more than I deserved, and taught me everything I needed to know entering the bone field.
Our work eventually led to the discovery of aluminum toxicity to bone resulting from the contamination of intravenous additives with aluminum. These findings reinforced the parallel work going on implicating aluminum in the bone toxicity in dialysis patients.
The excitement of making new discoveries in an area that was in the beginning stages of exploration at that time enticed me to join the ASBMR in 1980. The multidisciplinary nature of the Society and the ease to which I could find collaborators to help me solve problems has, to this day, motivated me to stay in the field.
If you knew at the beginning of your career what you know now what advice would you give yourself? What is a challenge you have faced and how have you overcome it?
My answer to both questions is really the same. Since 1989 I have been working in an area that is arcane to most investigators, bone loss following burn injury. I have tried to present my findings at burn meetings, but no one was interested in bone. I had also presented my findings at ASBMR and IBMS meetings, but no one was interested in burns. What kept me going was the encouragement I received from my ASBMR collaborators who helped me address so many of these issues. It was their willingness to help me address these problems and their encouragement that kept me going.
Former critics had also advised me not to give up. I was making posters out of figures from rejected manuscripts and all the while trying to redefine why I thought this area was important. After a while I think I wore down enough people that I eventually got to present my work at an ASBMR symposium and even talked my way into the Primer.
The take home lesson from this experience is that if you believe that your work is important, don't give up trying to convince others that it is. Continue to do studies and to publish. If you are on to something, the sheer weight of the evidence will, at some point, be sufficiently convincing that colleagues will give you a voice.