James O. Davis
James Othello Davis, MD, PhD, an outstanding scientist who made many exceptional contributions to the advancement of biomedical research in his lifetime, was born July 12, 1916 in Tahlequah, Oklahoma and died September 28, 2010 in St. Louis, Missouri.
Dr Davis earned his undergraduate degree from Northeastern State Teacher's College in his home town, followed by receipt of a master's degree in zoology from the University of Missouri (MU) in Columbia in 1939. He continued his studies in what was becoming one of the most distinguished zoology departments in the country and was awarded his PhD in zoology in 1942. While pursuing his doctoral studies, he met and married Florilla Sides, who was also pursuing an advanced degree in zoology at the University of Missouri. She was his active, life-long partner until her death in 2006, and will be remembered by all who knew her as a highly intelligent, energetic, charming, and independent person whose life was inextricably intertwined with that of her husband.
After completing his doctoral training, Dr Davis remained at the University of Missouri to finish a BS degree in medicine and then completed his MD degree at Washington University in St. Louis in 1945. Since the National Institutes of Health (NIH) had its early roots with Washington University, it is not surprising that Dr Davis began his independent research career with the NIH in Baltimore. He advanced quickly within an organization that has always been home to our nation's outstanding biomedical scientists. After approximately 10 years as an investigator at NIH, Dr Davis was named Chief of the Section of Experimental Cardiovascular Disease. He held that position until his return to the University of Missouri in 1966. During his tenure at NIH, Dr Davis also was a prominent academician on the East Coast, holding appointments as Professor of Physiology at Temple University, Visiting Associate Professor of Physiology at Johns Hopkins University, and Visiting Professor of Physiology at the University of Virginia. In 1966, Dr Davis returned to Columbia, Missouri to cap an outstanding career in biomedical research as Professor and Chair of the Department of Physiology, University of Missouri School of Medicine, where he served until 1982. His interest in the Department and University did not end with his retirement, however. Indeed, Dr Davis regularly visited the department to keep abreast of our growth and progress. In addition, he attended our annual Cardiovascular Day research forum (which is held each year in February) until 2007, when at the age of 90, the frigid Missouri winters became too daunting for travel outside his home.
Dr Davis and his fellows and students were responsible for some of the most seminal discoveries in cardiovascular physiology. One of his earliest contributions was the demonstration that the adrenal cortex plays an important role in the retention of salt and water in edematous states and documented that hypersecretion of aldosterone occurs in experimental states with edema including congestive heart failure. In associated work, Dr Davis and colleagues showed that an “aldosterone-stimulating hormone” provides the immediate stimulus for aldosterone production and that the source of this hormone was the kidney. Subsequently, they showed that the renal factor was the enzyme, renin, which plays the dominant role in the production of angiotensin II, the ultimate stimulus for aldosterone secretion from the adrenal cortex. Dr Davis's group also clarified the role of the anterior pituitary in the control of aldosterone secretion and showed that hepatic metabolism of aldosterone was a major factor in determining circulating aldosterone concentration. In the late 1960s, Dr Davis's attention turned to the regulation of the renin-angiotensin system, important in both the control of aldosterone secretion and in blood pressure regulation. While focusing studies on the factors regulating renin secretion, he not only discovered that a primary controller was renal perfusion pressure, but also that there were important inputs from renal tubular sodium reabsorption and sympathetic nerves innervating the kidney. Dr Davis was also one of the first to take advantage of the discovery of inhibitors of the renin-angiotensin system (both angiotensin II receptor antagonists and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors) to document the important role of angiotensin II in the blood pressure control. His work in this area was also critical to uncovering the role of renal prostaglandins in the control of renin release and kidney function. These examples are simply representative of the many discoveries made in the Davis laboratory over almost 40 years of intensive research into important cardiovascular diseases.
Most professions acknowledge their outstanding members by special distinctions including named lectureships, election to national office, and various awards. We could fill several pages with the recognition Dr Davis received throughout his career from his peers, but we will list only a few that underscore his impeccable credentials as a scientist. These include his receipt of the Franz Volhard Award and Lectureship from the International Society of Hypertension, the Ciba Award for Hypertension Research from the Council for High Blood Pressure Research of the American Heart Association, and the Carl J. Wiggers Award from the American Physiological Society. Dr Davis also served as chairman of the Council for High Blood Pressure Research and as President of the International Society of Hypertension. To simply say that Dr Davis's career was outstanding would be an understatement. While it is true that he did not win the Nobel Prize, the impact of his work was certainly of Nobel caliber. Indeed, the number and quality of his contributions were recognized by his election to the National Academy of Sciences in 1982.
Dr Davis was not only recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in cardiovascular science, he also was committed to MU, his family and friends, and his adopted home town, Columbia, Missouri. Through his dedication to research and academic life as chair of the department of physiology at MU, he laid the foundation for a solid departmental research program on which subsequent chairs have built considerable strength in the cardiovascular field. Although Dr Davis exhibited an exceptionally strong work ethic and demanded excellence from all who worked with him, he was also a devoted family man who always managed to carve out quality time to spend with his wife and 2 children. One of his most favored pastimes was trout fishing, and he was blessed to live within a short drive of waters where he could step into his waders and cast a fly. Dr Davis also had great interest in business as exemplified by his active participation in the stock market. Many of us who knew Dr Davis well were repeatedly amazed by his business acumen and ability to always buy low and sell high. Another aspect of his personality that few recognized was his keen interest in athletics. While Dr Davis was not an active sports participant, he was an avid fan and ardent supporter of the MU Tigers, holding season tickets to both football and basketball games while at Missouri. He also contributed to his community through his long-term service in Rotary.
Dr Davis was a true pioneer in hypertension and heart failure research, having made ground-breaking contributions to our fundamental understanding of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system. Along the way, he made many friends and will be sorely missed.
- © 2010 American Heart Association, Inc.