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A Tribute to Gerald Saidel

A founding father of the Department of Biomedical Engineering retires after 54 years of service.

 

When Gerald Saidel arrived at the Case Institute of Technology in the spring of 1967 as an assistant professor in engineering, there were no departments dedicated to specific fields. “At the time, everything was wide open,” recalls Saidel. “The field of biomedical engineering didn’t really exist, but there were two small research groups involved with bioengineering systems and medical engineering.”

Neither of the groups matched Saidel’s area of interest, but that didn’t deter the young researcher from pursuing partnerships to apply mathematical modeling of chemical and particle population processes with biological applications. “Since my formal education was in chemical engineering with no biological background, my plan was to learn primarily through research collaborations, “ says Saidel. “Within a year, I started research projects in collaboration with faculty in the School of Medicine involving yeast population dynamics, pulmonary function analysis and urea concentration development in the kidney.” 

In 1968, Case Western Reserve University was formed and Saidel was named one of the original faculty members of the Department of Biomedical Engineering. Through the years, he became a tenured professor and served as chair of the department from 1987 to 1998. Saidel will retire at the end of June 2021 having left his mark on his students, the university and the field of biomedical engineering.

 

Advancing Research in Mathematical Modeling and Analysis

While Saidel had expertise in mathematical modeling and quantitative analysis, he credits his collaborators with helping advance his research. “Through the research collaborations, I learned the biological and physiological aspects and was able to do something with them in terms of diagnostics and therapeutics,” he says.

During the first decade of his career, Saidel teamed with Edward Chester, MD, at the Cleveland VA Medical Center to develop a better way of performing diagnostic evaluations of the respiratory system. He also partnered with students to analyze kidney function. “The anatomical aspects of the kidney are very complicated, and there are many countercurrent exchange processes,” says Saidel. “The idea was to model the development so we could then predict what would happen under certain conditions.”

Saidel’s areas of research changed over the years as various faculty and students sought out his knowledge and collaboration. His research interests included, but were not limited to, tumor growth and metastatic processes, iron kinetics and metabolism, macromolecular transport in the arterial wall, cellular metabolic dynamics in exercise and ischemia, drug delivery in cancerous tissues, tissue engineering for bone defects, quantifying key cell receptors with positron emission tomography (PET), chronic heating of tissue, and thermal ablation of tissue guided by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

“I was fortunate to attract many outstanding graduate students who were interested in mathematical modeling for quantitative analysis of experimental data,” says Saidel. “Gradually, I developed courses using more sophisticated mathematical models and nonlinear parameter estimation.”

 

Putting Students First

The courses Saidel taught were invaluable to students like Kenneth Lutchen (PhD ‘83), now Dean of the College of Engineering at Boston University. “Jerry introduced me to the power and danger of fitting models to real data and the deep need to drill down into the results via sensitivity analysis and the statistical soundness of estimated parameters,” he says.

Saidel served as Lutchen’s PhD advisor, and together they developed and validated some of the first models that combined lung mechanical function with ventilation distribution of the lung. Lutchen acknowledges that Saidel was demanding and sometimes struck students as gruff. “But I learned early on that under all that is a deeply committed, caring, wonderful person who wanted his students to succeed more than anything,” says Lutchen.

Throughout his career, Saidel was committed to making students a top priority. As chair of the biomedical engineering department, he organized undergraduate and graduate committees so students would have a voice in the department. He also helped establish undergraduate sub-fields. “We wanted students to have different opportunities – to make sure they had options for minors in traditional engineering fields,” he says.

Saidel was equally committed to advancing the field of biomedical engineering outside of campus. “As chair of the department, I worked with other faculty and BME departments across the country on educational aspects of the field, trying to find common ground,” he says. Saidel also served as president of the Biomedical Engineering Society from 1986 to 1987 and was chair of the Council of Chairs of Bioengineering and Biomedical Engineering from 1992 to 1993.

While he had a vision for biomedical engineering, Saidel remained open minded to new ideas. When Ravi Bellamkonda was an assistant professor at Case Western Reserve University in the late 1990s, he recalls Saidel sliding an undergraduate paper under his door with the note, “How is this engineering?” The paper was on genetic engineering, and it was a time when the field was actively considering what the role of biology and bioengineering methods meant to BME, says Bellamkonda, currently Vinik Dean of Engineering at Duke University.

“To his credit, Jerry went on to not only support such research, but hire more faculty with non-traditional engineering backgrounds,” says Bellamkonda, who will join Emory University as provost and executive vice president of academic affairs in July. “This ability to ask questions, truly listen, and adapt and do what’s best for Case and the depart ment is what exemplifies Jerry Saidel and his service to Case.”

 

Leaving Behind a Strong Legacy 

Saidel has had many high notes during his career. His work on cellular metabolic dynamics in exercise led to creation of the Center for Modeling Integrated Metabolic Systems (MIMS), which received initial funding from an $11.8 million grant from the National Institutes of Health. Saidel served as director of MIMS from 2002 to 2015. 

Saidel co-authored the textbook “Biomedical Mass Transport and Chemical Reaction,” authored or co-authored more than 150 peer-reviewed journal articles and was an associate editor of the Annals of Biomedical Engineering from 1998 to 2013. He has received numerous awards and honors, including being named a Founding Fellow in the American Institute of Medical and Biomedical Engineers in 1992 and an Inaugural Class Fellow of the Biomedical Engineering Society in 2005.

Though proud of the individual accolades, Saidel points to his students as his crowning achievement. “My most important product during my modest career has been the students that I’ve taught and worked with who have been particularly successful,” he says.

Echoing the sentiments of students spanning seven decades, Lutchen says, “Thank you, Jerry, for more than you can ever imagine.”

 

Case Western Reserve University Department of Biomedical Engineering faculty circa 1990.

Seated (left to right): Stanley A. Brown, Janie M. Fouke, Gerald M. Saidel, Dominique Durand
Standing (left to right): Roger E. Marchant, Patrick E. Crago, David L. Wilson, Miklos Gratzl, J. Thomas Mortimer

 

From left: Shown here in 2009, Marco Cabrera (deceased) and Nicola Lai were long-time research collaborators in analysis of metabolism and dear friends of Gerald Saidel.

 

During his 54 years as a faculty member at Case Western Reserve University, Gerald Saidel influenced two generations of students, post-doctoral fellows and professors who went on to illustrious careers in biomedical engineering. Four of them share the impact Saidel had on their lives:

“Jerry and the rest of the faculty took a chance on a young, not very experienced assistant professor [in 1995]. Jerry was instrumental in putting me in situations – with my teaching load, my advising load, my research space and access to other resources – for me to be successful.”
Ravi V. Bellamkonda, Vinik Dean of Engineering, Duke University

“I arrived for my graduate studies at CWRU in 1970 with the dream of leveraging a new invention – the mainframe computer – to model the transport function of the kidney. Luckily, Jerry Saidel had just joined the faculty, and I realized he was just the guy to guide my work. I am now a principal investigator at NIH in the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute’s Systems Biology Center, working on projects that derived from my dissertation work. The field of systems biology is now in vogue. However, Jerry and I were doing systems biology 30 years before it became a popular endeavor.”
Mark A. Knepper (PhD ’75, MD ’76), Principal Investigator, Epithelial Systems Biology Laboratory, Systems Biology Center, National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute

“Jerry Saidel was a fantastic, caring mentor who taught me that a successful scientist must forecast the next big questions and develop the technology to answer those questions instead of just joining in on the topics currently in vogue. I use the engineering and mathematics principles he taught me throughout my current work. The publications we worked on together more than 30 years ago are still highly cited.”
Lance A. Liotta (PhD ‘74, MD '76), University Professor and Co-Director and Medical Director of the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine, George Mason University

“Jerry’s influence on me was immeasurable. First, of course, was his extraordinary knowledge in mathematical modeling of lumped and distributed systems, of transport phenomena and of how to think of modeling in the context of real data, not just simulated data. … On a different axis, Jerry, more than anyone else by far, taught me technical and scientific writing and communication. No matter how busy, Jerry would rigorously pour his red pencil into making sure the next version was better.”
Kenneth R. Lutchen (PhD ‘83), Dean of the College of Engineering, Boston University

 

 

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