Today, Robert Kyle, MD, will be presented with the 2008 Wallace H. Coulter Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hematology. First awarded in 2007 to the late Ernest Beutler, MD, the award is named for Wallace Henry Coulter, a prolific inventor and a source of important contributions to hematology and to ASH. The award in his name is granted to an individual who has demonstrated a lifetime commitment and outstanding contribution to hematology, and who has made a significant impact on education, research, and/or practice. The award will be presented to Dr. Kyle in recognition of his many contributions to the study of multiple myeloma, monoclonal gammopathies, amyloidosis, and related plasma cell disorders.
Few have studied multiple myeloma as extensively as Dr. Kyle; in fact, he has been referred to as the “father of myeloma,” given his extensive list of advances in the diagnosis, pathogenesis, and treatment of the disease. When Blood began publishing historical reviews in celebration of the 50th anniversary of ASH, Dr. Kyle (along with Dr. S. Vincent Rajkumar) penned the history of multiple myeloma (Blood. 2008;111:2962-72). At the beginning of this prominent hematologist’s career, however, Dr. Kyle states he knew “almost nothing” about the field.
At first his work was focused less on puzzling through the intricacies of plasma cell disorders than on sorting out the various maladies of troops stationed at Elmendorf Air Force Base in Anchorage, Alaska. Selected in the “Doctor’s Draft” while in his fellowship at Mayo, Dr. Kyle opted for the Alaska post over a base in Saudi Arabia, so that his wife Charlene could travel with him. While stationed at the dispensary, Dr. Kyle’s keen analytical powers were already evident, as he observed a correlation between soldiers’ ailments and onerous assignments. He eventually moved up to the base’s 400-bed hospital, where he observed firsthand sicknesses such as kidney infection and severe asthma. In his two years in the Air Force, Dr. Kyle says he “learned more than [he] would have in residency.”
After his time in Alaska, Dr. Kyle returned to the Mayo Clinic to finish his residency and unknowingly made a career-defining choice. At Mayo, fellows were asked to spend six months in a lab studying pathology, physiology, or hematology. Pathology did not particularly appeal to him. The focus in physiology was cardiovascular, and students were required to undergo cardiac catheterization, which appealed to him even less. The remaining option was hematology, which had been “glossed over in [his] medical school and internship” and seemed “foreign” to him.
Nevertheless, he dove into his new field of study with zeal, spending the next six months in the hematology library reading bone marrow and red blood cell slides. His project focused on acquired hemolytic anemia in chronic lymphocytic leukemia and the lymphomas. He learned that many patients scored positive on the Coomb’s test and responded to cortizone; he also learned, later, that similar discoveries had been made in German literature. Although he had not made a groundbreaking discovery, he learned a valuable lesson: “When you think you’ve made some sort of observation or discovery, it’s probably not new.”
After completing his residency, and with a newfound appreciation for hematology, Dr. Kyle went on to study with Dr. William Dameshek at Tufts for a year before returning, in 1961, to Mayo, where he has worked since.
In the decades spent there, Dr. Kyle was responsible for innumerable advances in the study and treatment of amyloidosis, myeloma, and related hematologic disorders. For instance, Dr. Kyle was the first to name, define, characterize, and describe MGUS, smoldering myeloma, and Bence Jones proteinuria. He developed a diagnostic formula for multiple myeloma and Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia based on reading electrophoretic patterns. He has collected sera from patients with plasma cell disorders and built up a bank of almost 200,000 such specimens.
Alongside these scientific accomplishments have been many professional ones. Dr. Kyle has been a teacher and mentor to many upcoming hematologists, happily sharing his considerable knowledge. He is president of the International Society of Amyloidosis and a member of the Board of Directors and chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board for the International Myeloma Foundation. In addition, he is working to develop an international myeloma society, writing the group’s constitution and bylaws.
Dr. Kyle notes that “patient contact has been the major rewarding aspect” of his career. Although he no longer sees patients regularly, he still hears from some of them. He has worked with many patients for long periods of time, just recently speaking to a patient whose multiple myeloma he diagnosed 34 years ago. “It has been really rewarding to see some of these patients do so well,” he said.
For his many years of service, Dr. Kyle will receive the 2008 Wallace H. Coulter Award for Lifetime Achievement in Hematology. He is “greatly honored and surprised to receive it,” calling the award, “a great honor for not only [him] and [his] colleagues at the Mayo Clinic, but also the study of multiple myeloma.” He “hopes the award brings more attention to the field of myeloma,” where Dr. Kyle has accomplished so much already.
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