By By Frederick N. Rasmussen and The Baltimore Sun
May 18, 2013 at 3:11 PM
Dr. Frederick L. Brancati, an internationally known expert on the epidemiology and prevention of type 2 diabetes who was director of the Division of General Internal Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, died Tuesday of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig's disease, at his Lutherville home. He was 53.
"He was a delightful human being — smart, witty and fun to be around," said Dr. Michael J. Klag, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, whom Dr. Brancati succeeded as division chief.
"He could have been a stand-up comedian or an author along the lines of Bill Bryson," he said. "Luckily for Hopkins and the health populations everywhere, he decided to do clinical research and become a mentor par excellence."
"Fred was an iconic figure who never wore his pedigree on his sleeve," said Dr. Lawrence J. Appel, director of the Welch Center for Prevention, Epidemiology, and Clinical Research at Johns Hopkins.
"He was really an amazing person who had so many dimensions to him. He had an amazing attitude and really cared about people of all spectrums throughout Hopkins. Fred had one foot in medicine and the other in public health," said Dr. Appel.
The son of factory workers, Frederick Louis Brancati was born in Queens, N.Y., and raised in Dix Hills, N.Y., where he graduated in 1977 from Half Hollow Hills High School.
Dr. Brancati was a 1981 magna cum laude graduate of Harvard University, where he earned a bachelor's degree in biochemical sciences.
After earning his medical degree in 1982 from Columbia University, he trained in internal medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, where he was also chief resident.
Dr. Brancati came to Baltimore in 1989 for a general internal medicine postdoctoral fellowship, while also earning a master's degree in clinical epidemiology from the Bloomberg School of Public Health.
He joined the medical school faculty in 1992 and was promoted to professor in 2003. He was named division director in 2004.
During Dr. Brancati's tenure, the division grew to include 80 full-time faculty, 150 part-time faculty and 17 postdoctoral fellows. The division also received more than $30 million per year in National Institutes of Health and other federal grants.
"Besides being a great scientist, what set him apart was his amazing sense of humor. He was very witty, and that helped people remember him and his ability to connect with them," said Dr. Jeanne M. Clark, who became interim chief of the division when Dr. Brancati stepped down this year.
She also said that Dr. Brancati had mentored many people from different backgrounds through the years, and as division chief for the last eight years, he "supported everyone."
Dr. Brancati was respected for his mentoring of women and minorities and had been given a Johns Hopkins University Diversity Award.
"Everyone who worked with him would be given the opportunity to achieve their potential," she said. "In General Internal Medicine, it was about love, nurturing and reaching goals, and he was known across the university for that. He made an impact on people."
Dr. Brancati's Hopkins colleagues said that his research had a profound impact on our understanding of the clinical epidemiology of type 2 diabetes and its complications.
Dr. Brancati studied trends in diabetes that ranged from age, race and ethnicity in the United States. His research also included risk prediction for diabetes and diabetic complications.
"In diabetes, he had many accomplishments, including being interested in the racial disparity and differences between blacks and whites who suffered from the disease," said Dr. Appel.
Under Dr. Brancati's leadership, his research colleagues found that a procedure called the A1c test is an independent predictor of cardiovascular disease and diabetes — far superior to fasting blood-glucose levels, which had been the standard — and that type 2 diabetes confers a higher risk of cancer mortality.
Early in his career, he was a member of a team at Hopkins that discovered moderate exercise could prevent the onset of diabetes in people with impaired glucose tolerance.
Dr. Brancati chaired committees in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Diabetes Prevention Program, and the federal Look AHEAD — Action for Health in Diabetes — trials.
Dr. Brancati also had many accomplishments as director of the division of General Internal Medicine.
"When there were hiring freezes at Hopkins, he was still able to hire, and knew how to work the system," said Dr. Appel. "When he was sick with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, he wrote a major grant that resulted in $20 million coming to Hopkins."
In 2011, Dr. Brancati was presented the Kelly West Award for Outstanding Achievement in Epidemiology from the American Diabetes Association and the Chief of the Year Award from the Association of Chiefs & Leaders of General Internal Medicine.
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Dr. Brancati had been married for 33 years to his high school sweetheart, Dr. Elizabeth M. Jaffee, a prominent cancer researcher who is the Dana and Albert "Cubby" Broccoli Professor of Oncology and co-director of the Skip Viragh Center for Pancreas Cancer at the Johns Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center.
"I was going through Fred's wallet and he had kept our prom tickets," said Dr. Jaffee. "He was my best friend."
Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.
In addition to his wife, Dr. Brancati is survived by his twin daughters, Maddy Brancati and Franny Brancati, 16, both students at Dulaney High School; his mother, Lee Brancati of Cockeysville; and a sister, Mary Lee Saarbach of Cockeysville.