Basil Hirschowitz

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Basil Isaac Hirschowitz (born May 29, 1925 in Bethal, South Africa; died January 19, 2013) directed the UAB School of Medicine's division of gastroenterology from its founding in 1959 until 1988 and was one of the inventors of the fiber-optic endoscope.

Hirschowitz was born to Morris and Dorothy Hirschowitz in South Africa. He was raised there and attended medical school at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg before moving to London, England to continue his training in gastroenterology. In 1953 he carried out a fellowship at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, researching improvements to the rigid optical instruments then used to examine the digestive system. He became interested in using fiber optics to transmit light and images after reading two articles published in Nature in 1954. He worked with two physicists, Wilbur Peters and Larry Curtiss to produce a prototype in 1957. He tested the prototype on himself before demonstrating the achievement to others. That prototype is now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution.

After arriving at UAB in 1959, Hirschowitz began testing commercial versions of his invention, then called the "Hirschowitz Fiber Optic Gastroduodenoscope". He later demonstrated its use on patients for medical researchers from around the world. He was naturalized as an American citizen in 1961.

Over the course of his career, Hirschowitz published over 300 papers and contributed heavily to the study of acid secretions and the treatment of ulcers. His work helped lay the foundation for the development of common drugs now used to treat acid-reflux. In one paper he and his co-authors described a rare hereditary nerve condition that caused deafness and certain gastrointestinal symptoms in two sisters. The disease has been called the "Groll-Hirschowitz syndrome" in honor of that first description.

He has been awarded the General Motors Cancer Research Foundation Charles F. Kettering Prize (1987), the Julius Friedenwald Medal from the American Gastroenterological Association (1992) and the Schindler Medal from the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (1988). He is also an honorary fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and has been inducted into the Alabama Healthcare Hall of Fame and the Alabama Academy of Honor (1991).

Hirschowitz reduced his workload as a professor emeritus in 1996 and retired from the University in 2008. At his retirement he was awarded UAB's President's Medal. Hirschowitz was inducted into the Birmingham Business Hall of Fame in 2021.

He is married to the former Barbara Burns and has four children.


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