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Peter Verveer Tishler M.D. is a research scientist, educator, and clinician. A long-time researcher in human genetics and orphan diseases, Peter Tishler has devoted his medical career to the study of genetic diseases, including polycystic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Fabry disease, and the porphyrias. He has educated generations of academic physicians and cared for the disenfranchised in city hospitals Boston City Hospital, academic centers Brigham and Women's Hospital, Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital, and Veteran’s Administration Hospitals. He perpetuates the life stories of his many mentors through his teaching, writing, and contributions to the history of medicine. Outside of medicine, he is a husband, father and grandfather who enjoys nature (Royalston, MA), music, cultivating orchids, gardening, birding, running and learning about fine wines.
Early Years and EducationBorn July 18, 1937 to Elizabeth Verveer and Max Tishler, Peter spent his childhood in New Jersey. His father was a senior research chemist and later president of Merck. He attended public school through high school. As a teenager, he traveled by himself from Westfield into Manhattan to take tuba lessons from a New York Philharmonic teacher. He spent summers in Roscoe, New York with his brother Carl, born when Peter was 10. Tishler attended Harvard College where he majored in Biochemical Sciences. It was there that he began his lifelong dedication to genetics, influenced by R. Paul Levine. He wrote his senior thesis on carboxypeptidase, in the lab of Dr. C.J. Fu at the Jimmy Fund, graduating cum laude in 1959. During a summer at the Jimmy Fund, he met Sigrid (Sigi) Ann Lemlein, a Radcliffe College undergraduate doing research with Dr. Edward Modest. They became engaged at the end of Peter’s senior year in college and were married in 1960. Peter and Sigi attended Yale University School of Medicine. While at Yale, Dr. Tishler began his long association with the Thorndike Memorial Laboratory at Boston City Hospital. Dr. William B. Castle, discoverer of intrinsic factor, introduced him to Dr. Sidney H. Ingbar with whom he began to work on the metabolic actions of thyroid hormone. Another important mentor, Dr. Maxwell Finland contributed to Peter’s scientific and clinical work in many ways. Tishler’s nascent interest in genetics arose from his laboratory research when he began to study thyroid function in patients with phenylketonuria, a devastating genetic disease, now preventable with early diagnosis and special diet.
TrainingPeter left New Haven for the Harvard Medical Service at Boston City Hospital in 1963. The service was known not only for taking care of indigent, challenging patients, but for the dedication and caring of its professors and staff. Tishler grew professionally and clinically from his contact with special mentors, among them Charlie Davidson, Ronald Arky, Norbert Frankel and William B. Castle. He developed close friendships with his contemporaries that continue to enrich his life, personally and professionally, over 40 years later.Dr. Finland and Dr. Ingbar encouraged him to pursue his growing interest in medical genetics. During the Vietnam War, Tishler went to Bethesda, Md. as a Public Health Service officer at the National Institutes of Health. There he worked with Chris Anfinsen, Charles Epstein and Alan Schechter on the biochemistry of embryogenesis. During this time, the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was followed by protests, fires and looting in Washington, D.C. Tishler, an active participant in the Civil Right’s Movement, went immediately to the city jail to provide medical care for protesters.
Family lifePeter and Sigi expanded their family in the late 1960’s to include their son Jordan (born in Washington D.C in 1966) and daughter Alison (born in Boston in 1969). They settled in Brookline, MA where Tishler returned to form the first genetics division of the Harvard Medical Unit at Boston City Hospital. They also bought land in Royalston, Massachusetts, where they designed and built a retreat, The Farm.
PracticeDuring the next 9 years, Peter continued his basic laboratory work, but also began to think about genetics and medicine in the terms of population and epidemiology. Drs. Edward H. Kass and Frank Speizer guided his thinking about these issues. He was named the Francis Weld Peabody Fellow, developed a consultative genetics practice and acquired a group of patients, for whom he still provides care. Tishler was also involved in familial studies of hypertension at one of the first community health centers in the nation, East Boston Neighborhood Health Center. When the Harvard Medical Unit at Boston City Hospital closed its doors in 1977, he moved with the Channing Lab to its new home on Harvard Medical School’s Longwood campus and began his long association with what is now known as Brigham and Women’s Hospital. In 1980, Peter moved to the VA Hospitals in West Roxbury, MA and in Brockton, MA. As Associate Chief of Medicine at the VA in Brockton and Associate Chief of Staff for Education, he was responsible for the oversight of multiple residency training programs associated with the VA Medical Center through Harvard teaching hospitals, particularly the Beth Israel Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is a staunch advocate for physicians in training, a generous teacher and gifted clinician. He is a devoted advocate for disabled veterans many of whom had no family or friends to speak for them. While he conducted medical research, he also participated as a subject in the landmark Physician’s Health Study that has helped us understand so much about preventive health care for men in the late twentieth and early twenty first centuries.
The Family ExpandsAs Tishler’s children grew, his family expanded to include daughter-in-law Lori Wiviott Tishler and son-in-law Steven Cantrell. Between 1992 and 2003, Sigi and Peter welcomed 4 grandchildren into their lives.
Retirement and PresentAfter leaving the VA in 2002, Tishler has continued his work at the Channing Laboratory and BWH. Following the explosion of knowledge in the field of genetics and epidemiology over the last decades, his interests have expanded to include consideration of the genetics of complex diseases such as obstructive sleep apnea and bicuspid aortic valve disease; he continues to care for patients with orphan diseases and to teach residents and students. A former member of the board of the Boston Medical Library, he continues to participate actively in the Countway Library’s Center for the History of Medicine. His non-medical interests in nature have led to recent travels to the Galapagos Island and two terms as President of the Massachusetts Orchid Society.
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