Allopathic medicine lost a pioneer in epidemiological research when Dr. Curtis G. Hames, Sr. passed away in Savannah on Jan. 6.
Dr. Hames, a 1994 graduate of the Medical College of Georgia, literally revolutionized the way the world viewed the rural primary care physician. By becoming a luminary in the field of epidemiology, he gave us great insight into medicine and took research out of the hands of ivory towered institutions and into community-based practices.
Dr. Hames started out as a primary clinical practitioner in Claxton, Ga. By the mid-1950s he began an epidemiological study of Evans County residents that attracted international attention.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded the Evans County Heart Study from 1958-95. This spotlighted Dr. Hames research into examining patients within their environment. He made some very noteworthy discoveries that doctors today utilize on a daily basis.
Over 560 scientific papers in major medical peer-reviewed journals worldwide are credited to Dr. Hames, on subjects including heart disease, genetics, cancer, hypertension, stroke, pesticide pollution, neuro-hormones, immunology, viral disease and the effects of social interaction on disease.
The value of High Density Lipoprotein (HDL) Cholesterol was elucidated in one of his first studies. Dr. Hames looked into the subject of cholesterols impact on cardiovascular health. It showed the protective value of HDL-Cholesterol.
In another study he researched the possible impact of the absence of a certain trace mineral called selenium in the diet of coastal residents. Selenium is necessary for the production of glutathione peroxidase, an important antioxidant in liver detoxification. It has known protective effects against cancer as well as heart disease.
Levels found in nature depend on soil content, and apparently subjects in Dr. Hames studies that fell victim to heart disease were ingesting far less selenium (due to depletion in the soil) than what was necessary to be protective. Todays top dietary supplements contain therapeutic doses of selenium thanks in part to Dr. Hames research.
To make these astonishing discoveries attention to detail prevailed in his data collection. In his introductory article in the Archives of Internal Medicine (1971) Dr. Hames wrote,
from the clinical observations that coronary heart disease appeared to occur less frequently among blacks than whites, even though hypertension was obviously more common in blacks and they consumed higher animal fat diet.
African-American men with high blood pressure and high fat diets were thought to be at much higher risk for heart disease, but his data showed otherwise -- and thus the hunt was on for that factor which yielded his countys difference.
He would tirelessly note specifics on households, age, and marital status of subjects entered into the study as well as characterize the terrain composition, diet and industry in the area. He referred to this as the total approach to understanding the basis of disease and health.
Where others failed it was his great patient rapport as a physician that was credited with an astonishing 92 percent success rate in studies designed to include every adult resident in the county. So not only was he a scientist, but he was also a humanitarian who genuinely cared about his patients.
JP Saleeby, MD, is assistant medical director of the Emergency Department at Liberty Regional Medical Center in Hinesville. Reach him at email@example.com.