University colleagues, surgeons from around world to celebrate career of Edwin Kaplan

Endocrine surgeons from around the world will join dozens of Chicago physicians Friday, April 16 to celebrate the long, illustrious and ongoing medical career of Edwin Kaplan, a Professor of Surgery who joined the UChicago faculty in 1968.

A daylong symposium, with speakers from France and Italy, more than a dozen U.S. medical schools, and the National Cancer Institute and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, will speak about Kaplan's career, his contributions to the field, and the ongoing development of projects and research fields he helped launch.

A general surgeon specializing in the operative treatment of thyroid, parathyroid and other endocrine disorders, Kaplan is one of the best-known, most-respected and sought-after surgeons in his field. He was a founder of the American Association of Endocrine surgeons, its second president and one of only five recipients of the association's Oliver Cope Meritorious Achievement Award, in 2009. He wrote the chapter on thyroid and parathyroid surgery in every edition of a standard surgical text from 1970-94. He has trained many of the leading surgeons in his field. And, at age 74, he still performs about 220 operations a year.

"When the field of endocrine surgery was first identified as a unique specialty, Ed was already seen as one of the leaders," said fellow endocrine surgeon Peter Angelos, Professor of Surgery at the University of Chicago. "A generation of surgeons looks up to him as a primary authority. He's seen it all."

"Ed is also unbelievably gracious, one of the friendliest people I know," Angelos said. "He's so nice; those who have just met him sometimes think it can't quite be sincere. But I've known him a long time, and it's genuine. He's that way with everyone. That's why no one we invited turned down a chance to speak at his symposium. Once the word was out, surgeons started calling up, inviting themselves."

"I've been here one long time," Kaplan said. He estimated that since arriving at the University he has operated on about 12,000 patients, helped train nearly 5,000 students and 1,000 residents, written more than 200 scientific papers, edited two books and authored one. His trainees include the dean of a medical school in Taiwan, president of a thyroid disease hospital in Tokyo, and chairs of surgery departments in Korea and Japan.

Kaplan also had a significant impact on the understanding of endocrine disease, especially the physiology and genetics of endocrine tumors. Working with University of Chicago endocrinologists Leslie deGroot and Samuel Refetoff, he helped document the connections between radiation exposure and thyroid cancer. He was the first to show that administering calcium triggered the release of insulin by pancreatic tumors that secrete insulin. This led to the development of a technique to localize these tumors for surgical removal. He was also a leader in the study of primary hyperparathyroid disease.

Born Nov. 20, 1935, and raised in Philadelphia, Edwin L. Kaplan graduated from the University of Pennsylvania in 1957 and its medical school in 1961. After an internship at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City, he returned to the University of Pennsylvania for his residency, becoming chief surgical resident in 1966.

In 1968, after a research fellowship at the Mayo Clinic, where he worked on early studies of a calcitonin immunoassay and on the purification of parathyroid hormone, he joined Gerald Peskin, one of his former medical school professors, at Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago, and was appointed an assistant professor of surgery at the University of Chicago.

In 1971 he moved to the University of Chicago Medical Center as an associate professor. He has been there since, rising to professor of surgery with tenure in 1975. He served as vice chair of the department of surgery from 1979 to 1981 and as president of the medical staff organization from 1987 to 1991.

Kaplan has lectured all over the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia and received many awards, including spots on most of the local, regional and national best-doctor and top-surgeon lists. He served as governor of the American College of Surgeons and head of its Medical Motion Picture Committee, president of the Metropolitan Chicago Chapter of the American College of Surgeons, president of the Chicago Surgical Society and a member of the board of directors of the International Association of Endocrine Surgeons.

Despite four decades of such accomplishments, he has no desire to cut back. "I've been through 11 deans or acting deans," he said, "and six or seven chairs of surgery. I may not have the energy for research I once did, but I'm a better surgeon now than I've ever been. I understand disease better, that comes with more experience, and I know more about how to operate on it."

Besides, he said, "I like taking care of people. It's the best feeling you can have, to advance the care of patients."

The symposium, organized by surgical colleagues Mitchell C. Posner, Peter Angelos and department chair Jeffrey B. Matthews, will begin at 8 a.m., April 16 in room P-117 of the Medical Center, and will continue until 4 p.m. when Kaplan will give closing remarks. A reception and dinner will follow at 6 p.m. at the Mid-America Club of the Aon Center.