A portrait of Katherine M. Detre, MD, DrPH, was presented to the Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH) at a reception on June 9. Detre was one of the nation’s leading epidemiologists, noted particularly for her leadership of large-scale studies investigating cardiovascular disease. At the time of her death in January 2006, she held the position of distinguished professor of epidemiology at GSPH, an honor bestowed in 2002 in recognition of extraordinary, internationally recognized scholarly attainment. She was one of the first two professors to be honored with the title of distinguished professor by the University of Pittsburgh.
The portrait, a gift to the school from Christine Fulton and George Fechter, now hangs in the GSPH lobby in Parran Hall. Fulton and Fechter are long-time friends of the Detre family and of the University. Among those present at the reception were Thomas Detre, emeritus distinguished senior vice chancellor for the health sciences, and husband of Katherine; and Tony and John Detre, their sons.
Before the portrait was unveiled for the first time in public, tributes to the scientific legacy that Katherine Detre left were made by Mark A. Nordenberg, chancellor of the University; Arthur S. Levine, MD, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences; and Lewis H. Kuller, MD, DrPH, distinguished university professor of public health; and Donald S. Burke, MD, GSPH dean.
Until the last few weeks of her life, Detre continued to be scientifically active, leading GSPH’s Epidemiology Data Center, an organization that she founded in 1980. The center, which now has more than 120 faculty and staff, has coordinated the design, data management, and statistical analysis activities for more than 60 medical research projects, with a particular focus on multi-center clinical trials and patient registries.
In 2000, as principal investigator, Detre began a 40-site, seven-year study to determine the best way to treat individuals with both type 2 diabetes and early coronary artery disease. That study, known as Bypass Angioplasty Revascularization Investigation (BARI 2D), was initiated with a grant of $52.2 million from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), one of the largest research awards in the University’s history. This study grew out of earlier work by Dr. Detre and collaborators nationwide demonstrating that diabetic patients on medication who had coronary bypass surgery were more likely to survive heart attack than diabetics who had angioplasty.
In addition, Detre led investigations of the effects of cholesterol-lowering drugs on coronary artery disease, cardiovascular risk factors in women, long-term outcome of liver transplantation, resuscitation following brain injury, and bariatric surgery.
Detre was born Katherine Maria Drechsler in Budapest, Hungary, on April 28, 1926, and grew up there during the Nazi occupation of World War II. To cope with the losses she suffered during the war, she immersed herself in her studies at Pazmany Peter Medical School. Later, Detre was able to escape communism by slipping across the border into Austria during the night. In 1949, Detre received an International Student Service Award to study in Canada. Three years later, she completed her MD degree from Queen’s University Medical School in Kingston, Ontario, followed by residency training in internal medicine at Queen Mary Veterans Hospital. In the meantime, she became reacquainted with Thomas Detre, MD, whom she had first met in Budapest in 1946 and who also had emigrated, first to Italy and later to the United States.
Katherine Detre moved to Yale University to be with her future husband, who was completing his psychiatric training there. At Yale, she became a research assistant while also studying biometry, the application of statistics to the biological sciences. She received her DrPH in biometry from Yale in 1967. After completing her doctorate, she joined the Veterans Administration Cooperative Studies Program and served as principal statistician for the VA Coronary Bypass Study, the first clinical trial to compare surgery to medical treatment.
In 1974, the Detres relocated to Pittsburgh, where Katherine Detre became an associate professor of epidemiology at GSPH. She was promoted to tenured professor in 1979. Detre authored or coauthored more than 200 articles in professional journals, as well as more than 30 book chapters. She was a fellow of the American Heart Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the American College of Epidemiology. She was an active member of the American Diabetes Association, the American Statistics Association, the American Epidemiology Society, and Society for Clinical Trials, for which she served on the board of directors since 1981.
In 1992, Detre was made an honorary fellow of the American College of Cardiology in recognition of her pioneering efforts in establishing clinical trials in cardiovascular research. In 2003, she was honored with the Marion Spencer Fay Award for Women in Medicine and in the same year was named a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania. In 2005, Detre was honored as one of the physicians featured in the National Library of Medicine’s “Changing the Face of Medicine” exhibit, which documented the many ways in which women have influenced and enhanced the practice of medicine.
Despite her extremely active professional life, for Detre, science took second place to family. In addition to her nearly half-century-long marriage to Thomas Detre, she took enormous pride in the accomplishments of their two sons, John, a neurologist and neuroscientist, and Tony, a businessman and entrepreneur. And she adored her four grandchildren. John Detre and his wife, Wendy Beetlestone, have two daughters, Claudia and Naomi Detre; and Tony Detre and his wife, Yvette Kovats, have two children, Alexandra and Paul Detre.