Thomas Jefferson University

History of the Chairs

The Department of Pathology became a major Department at Thomas Jefferson University in 1891 with Morris Langstreth (1891-95) as the first chairman and Department Head.  His professional career at Jefferson began as a lecturer and his career in Pathology paralleled a very productive period in medicine that was dominated by notable discoveries in infectious diseases, though he himself made no major contributions.   He was the author of one of the earliest pathologic treatises on Rheumatism and Gout and was well ahead of his time as a strong advocate of regular physical examinations and wellness. Langstreth’s strong interests in medical education and health care/wellness heralded a current focus of the Department, under the leadership of Dr. Stephen Peiper, on integrated personalized health care and broad-based medical interdepartmental education programs at the undergraduate and graduate levels. 

Under the leadership of William M.L. Coplin, the successor to Morris Langstreth and first full time Chairman, the Department developed an identity in both the Medical College and the Hospital. Until the last two decades of the nineteenth century,

Pathology had been a didactic subject; based in the Medical College. With the advent of microscopy and the discoveries in bacteriology in the late 19th century, and their application to clinical problems in the hospital, modern clinical laboratories became a necessity in the hospital.   The Department developed subspecialty expertise in many areas, including neuropathology and laboratory medicine.  These, and other multifaceted programs in clinical service, education and research, were to become the underpinning of an academic pathology for the next century.   By the turn of the century, histological techniques were relatively advanced. Paraffin embedding as standard practice and most of  the basic staining methods including the notable Coplin jar(1), which was developed in the Department, became staples in the clinical laboratory that would be routinely employed at Jefferson, as well as other pathology laboratories, for the next 50 years.  Coplin served as Head of the Pathology Department for 26 years, the longest tenure of any chairman to date.  Coplin should be remembered for the diversification he brought to the Pathology Department that presaged the current structure of academic pathology.

In the 36 years between Longstreth's appointment as first Chairman in 1891 and the arrival of Virgil Moon as the fourth Chairman in 1927, enormous advances had taken place in the understanding of disease processes. Most of these advances were made by the application of the “new” sciences of microbiology and biochemistry to the clinical aspects of disease; a process now known by the buzz words, “applications” or “translational” research.  Virgil Moon, recruited to Jefferson from Indiana University, introduced experimental pathology   Moon engaged in both teaching and research, becoming an authority on shock, and writing two widely read monographs in 1938 and 1942 that profoundly influenced the way battle casualties were managed in World War II.

Research in the Department was greatly expanded under the leadership of Dr. Emanuel Rubin, who served as chairman of the department from 1986 though 2003.  During his tenure, the Department became a major research center with the establishment of a NIH funded  Alcohol Research Center and wide ranging  studies  in basic cellular and molecular biology.   The size the faculty in the areas of clinical service, education and research was greatly increased.  The Department was awarded its first NIH grant in 1986 and ultimately was ranked no 3 nationally in NIH funding.  In attempting to establish a molecular basis for the behavioral tolerance to alcohol and other drugs, Rubin introduced new techniques, such as nuclear magnetic resonance, to learn of the biophysical principles that govern the control mechanisms for cell membranes. The Ph.D. graduate program was initiated in July 1, 1969 as a joint program of the Medical College and the College of Allied Health.  The Department, in association with the other basic science departments, has developed a strong M.D.-Ph.D. program and NIH funded Ph.D. training programs.

The addition of “Cell Biology” to the name of the Department reflected the strong commitment to research in basic mechanisms of disease and the award of a Ph.D. training grant.   The Department of Pathology, Anatomy and Cell Biology was formed on July 1, 1996.   The boundaries between traditional pathology and biochemistry, cell physiology, and molecular pharmacology were rapidly disappearing in the research laboratory and this trend continues to the present. .  Dr. Rubin, along with his colleague John L. Farber, M.D., were the founding editors of the textbook Pathology, Now in its sixth edition, currently co-edited by Bruce Fenderson, Ph.D. and David Strayer, M.D., Ph.D.  It is considered a major textbook on the subject and is utilized by many medical Colleges as the standard basic text.  Dr. Rubin also served as the editor in chief of the prestigious journal Laboratory Investigation for more than a decade.   His successor, Fred Gorstein, served briefly as interim and subsequently as Chairman of the Department from 2003-2008. Dr. Gorstein served as the Associate Editor and Editor-In-Chief of the Journal Human Pathology from 1978 until 2005. His primary focus was on the educational programs and the pathology clinical services provided by the hospital division of the Department.

In 2008 Dr. Stephen Peiper was recruited as Chair of the Department.  Under his leadership molecular/genomic translational research and clinical testing has been greatly expanded to include a wide range of genomic testing, including molecular markers of neoplasia and the rapid detection of bacterial and viral organisms.  The Department is currently at the cutting edge in the study and application of molecular methodology in most major areas of translational research, diagnosis and the monitoring of disease.

Source:   Thomas Jefferson University - tradition and heritage,  Part II: Basic Sciences Paper 39.edited by Frederick B. Wagner, Jr., MD, 1989.Department of Pathology. William.E.  Delaney III, M.D. Chapt. 6   pgs 182-202