Last week, I had the honor of attending a memorial service at the University of Illinois for Dr. Fred Kummerow, a long-“retired” but never inactive member of the department I headed for almost 10 years. Fred was an inspiration to me personally to always remain physically and mentally active, and yes, limit my consumption of French fries! But as a scientist, the biggest lesson the 102 year old member of our department provided was to be resolute, personally and politically, when it came to scientific facts.
Fred was a yesteryear example of a “Dreamer” when he came to the U.S. as a child from Germany to live in Milwaukee, and became a citizen when his parents did. As described in the following video and article in the New York Times, he is best known for his having identified trans fatty acids in human fat tissue as early as 1957, reporting it in Science, and having it lead to his being shut out of significant federal funding because the dogma of cardiologists was that cholesterol intake was leading to heart disease.
Fred pushed back as a centenarian by communicating directly to the public with his book entitled, Cholesterol is Not the Culprit: A Guide to Preventing Heart Disease. https://www.amazon.com/Cholesterol-Not-Culprit-Preventing-Disease-ebook/dp/B00IJ26UR8. He had determined that it was oxysterols (oxidized cholesterol) produced by processing and overcooking of fat that were actually leading to the change in endothelial membrane structure and calcium deposits in coronary arteries. Trans fats and oxysterols were the culprit, and he eventually sued the Food and Drug Administration to have trans fats banned completely from processed foods by June 2018, a ban that he, unfortunately didn’t live to see. In other words, butter and eggs were fine and margarine and fried foods was what was going to cause heart disease. He lived by this advice to the age of almost 103.
Video on the announcement of trans fat ban: https://youtu.be/XSfMPeZuCsw
Obituary in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/01/science/fred-kummerow-dead-biochemist-ban-trans-fatty-acids.html
I can vouch that he was able to support an active laboratory until he was 101 years old, primarily with gift funds, a rarity these days. When he had to turn to non-federal grants, he found support from the egg industry, and was lambasted by no other than the then-notorious columnist Jack Anderson for what Anderson and many others felt was a conflict of interest. Fred saw it as a pragmatic solution to advance his science and was not influenced by who funded it. Beyond that, he was a consummate single-minded optimist with regards to essentially running his lab almost month-to-month, and for the decade I knew him, generally raised the funds to continue. We called him the “Energizer Bunny” of private fund-raising from those who believed in his work. Although I can’t prove it, at the age of 100, he may have been the oldest scientist ever to apply for a grant from NIH. Unfortunately, he didn’t receive that grant; nevertheless he persisted.
So, why am I writing about Fred in this educational blog? Because he followed the EVIDENCE of his science like a hounddog, even when it was unpopular, and detrimental to his research funding. Fred’s story isn’t “old-school”; it is highly relevant today.
We need to be teaching our students to be hounddogs for the best scientific facts, and as veterinary educators, we should try to listen to the evidence of the field of education at large when it comes to how students learn.