Post #003: Agamemnon Despopoulos (1924-1979)

London, January 31, 2017

On Saturday, July 30, 2016, Professor Tilli Tansey and I attended the Conference Dinner of the Joint Meeting of the American Physiological Society and The Physiological Society [1], in Dublin. On the other side of the table sat Professor Stefan Silbernagl, the name of whom rang a bell. A few glasses of white wine later and with the discreet help of my iPhone, I realized that the man sitting across the table was none other than one of the authors of what I thought – as a medical student – has been the most useful book of physiology available: the “Color Atlas of Physiology” [2].

Professor Silbernagl was not the sole author of this extremely useful book. The “Taschenatlas der Physiologie” – as it was originally published in German (1979) – was coauthored by Agamemnon Despopoulos; a former Professor of Physiology at the University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, who was, at the time of the book’s publication, employed as a Scientific Advisor at Ciba-Geigy in Basel. Despopoulos was an expert in renal and hepatic physiology, and the man whose “creative enthusiasm” – according to Professor Silbernagl – has made that book possible. Unfortunately, Despopoulos never got to hold a final copy of that first edition of the “Taschenatlas der Physiologie” in his hands. On November 2, 1979, Despopoulos and his wife, Sarah Jones-Despopoulos, sailed on their yacht from Bizerte, Tunisia, with an intention to cross the Atlantic; this was the last that was ever heard of them.

The book went on to become an international bestseller, counting 8 editions in German and its translation in approximately 20 languages; an achievement undoubtedly owed to the improvements introduced by Professor Silbernagl over the years. On my flight back to London Gatwick, I realized that although unlucky in his sailing adventure, Agamemnon Despopoulos has been truly blessed in collaborating with a scientist of the ethos and vision of Silbernagl. Establishing a continuity of one’s work is neither an easy task, nor a priority for most scientists; it is an undertaking that requires devotion and confidence in the work itself, and – as it seems – luck and vision in the choice of one’s colleagues.


Notes: [1]: the conference was “Physiology 2016” (29-31 July 2016); [2]: as a medical student I had a copy of the first Greek edition (1989) of the “Color Atlas of Physiology”, gifted to me by my uncle, Dr Elias L. Gkourvelos, who is also a graduate of the Medical School of Athens.

Citation: Zarros A. Post #003: Agamemnon Despopoulos (1924-1979). 2017; 31-Jan.