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  • The Guyton Obituary

    Dr. Arthur C. Guyton, professor emeritus of physiology and biophysics at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, died April 3, 2003, in an automobile accident.

    Dr. Arthur C. Guyton
    Dr. Arthur C. Guyton

    Guyton, 83, was chairman of the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the Medical Center from 1955 until his retirement in 1989. Considered one of the world's leading physiologists, he is recognized for several major discoveries of the cardiovascular system.

    In the 1950s, he overturned the conventional wisdom that the heart controlled the amount of blood pumped, or "cardiac output." He demonstrated that in most cases the need of body tissues for oxygen determined cardiac output rather than the pumping ability of the heart itself.

    He also was the first to measure correctly the pressure in the interstitium, the fluid between cells that makes up about one-sixth of the body. These contributions were key to understanding clinical conditions such as edema and congestive heart failure.

    In 1966, an early computer model led to his theory of "infinite gain," which gave the kidney preeminence as the long-term regulator of blood pressure. Other systems can only regulate pressure short-term and will eventually be overpowered by the key controller.

    Marshall Bouldin's portrait of Dr. Guyton hangs in the Guyton Laboratory Research Building.
    Marshall Bouldin's portrait of Dr. Guyton hangs in the Guyton Laboratory Research Building.

    In addition to his huge research contributions that clarified and defined the cardiovascular system, Guyton was the author of what is probably the best-selling medical textbook of all time - the "Textbook of Medical Physiology," now in its 10th edition and translated into 15 foreign languages. It has been in print and in use by students all over the world for more than 45 years.

    Acknowledging the book's influence on the education of physicians, the Association of American Medical Colleges honored Guyton with its 1996 Abraham Flexner Award in Medical Education.

    His successor as chairman of the department, Dr. John Hall, said Guyton taught and mentored more than 150 scientists and at least 27 who are now department chairs. Hall, himself one of Guyton's students and immediate past president of the American Physiological Society, also noted that the current president-elect of the society, Dr. Neil Granger, is the sixth Guyton-taught physiologist to head the prestigious scientific organization.

    "Dr. Guyton inspired people to do their best. As his trainees continue to receive many awards and honors for their work, and as they are recognized for their 'insight,' it is perhaps easy to forget that we have had a tremendous advantage - we have stood on the shoulders of a giant. He was a shining example of the very best in humankind." 

    Lecturing to medical students in the 1970s
    Lecturing to medical students in the 1970s

    Dr. Allen W. Cowley, another Guyton trainee, chairman of the Department of Physiology at the Medical College of Wisconsin, said, "A better role model for life and science could not be imagined. No one had a greater influence upon my own life and scientific career."

    Dr. Aubrey Taylor, chairman of physiology at the University of South Alabama, was one of Guyton's first graduate students. He said Guyton "always had superb ideas (for research) that embarked us on fantastic research and academic careers. And I marveled at his ability to do so many things well."

    The Medical Center's vice chancellor, Dr. Wallace Conerly, said Guyton's textbook "got me through Tulane medical school." He also noted that "everything we know about high blood pressure and many of the drugs we now use to treat it, all we know about the treatment of congestive heart failure is because of Arthur Guyton. He had a way of thinking about and teaching physiology that is now commonly called 'Guytonian' physiology in scientific circles."

    Guyton was born in Oxford, the son of Dr. Billy S. and Kate Smallwood Guyton. His father was an ophthalmologist and dean of the two-year medical school at the University from 1935 until 1944. His mother, a mathematician and physics teacher, had been a missionary in China for five years before she married.

    He graduated at the top of his class from the University of Mississippi and entered Harvard Medical School in 1939. His surgery internship at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston was interrupted by military service at Camp Detrick, Md. After World War II, he went back to Mass General to complete his surgery training, but contracted polio in 1947.

    The disease left him with residual paralysis that he knew would prevent a career in surgery. After a period of recovery in Warm Springs, Ga., he came back to Oxford to begin a career in research. (He earned a presidential citation in 1956 for instruments and aids he designed for the handicapped after seeing the need for them at Warm Springs.)

    With medical students, circa 1982, discussing his computer model of the cardiovascular system
    With medical students, circa 1982, discussing his computer model of the cardiovascular system

    His first full-time teaching job was in the pharmacology department at the two-year medical school in Oxford. In 1948, he was named chairman of the physiology department. He moved to Jackson as chairman when the medical school was expanded to a four-year curriculum and the Medical Center opened in 1955.

    He received virtually every scientific honor a physiologist can receive, including the Special Scientific Achievement Award from the American Medical Association, the William Harvey Award from the American Society of Hypertension, the CIBA Award for Research in Hypertension, and the Research Achievement Award of the American Heart Association. He was president of the American Physiological Society and the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology. He was editor-in-chief of the International Review of Physiology and editor of the Cardiovascular Volume of the International Review of Physiology.

    In 1978, he was invited to give the William Harvey Lecture for the Royal College of Physicians in London honoring the 400th anniversary of the birth of William Harvey, who first described the circulation of blood. He was invited to lecture at universities all over the globe, wrote scores of books and hundreds of scientific papers and edited many journals. Yet, as former vice chancellor Dr. Norman C. Nelson recalled, "He was always attentive to the needs here. He never closed his door to students, and he was the only teacher I ever knew to turn down an invitation to give a prestigious lecture if it conflicted with his teaching schedule."

    He and his wife, Ruth Weigle Guyton, built their present home in Jackson soon after they moved here. Their 10 children, all of whom are now physicians, grew up in the house in north Jackson that their father designed and built.

    The family asks that donations be made to the Arthur C. Guyton Distinguished Lectureship Fund as a way of honoring his memory. Donations may be mailed to the Division of Public Affairs, University of Mississippi Medical Center, 2500 N. State St., Jackson, MS 39216-4505.