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Carolyn Abitbol ('67) pediatrics professor
Carolyn Abitbol (’67), professor of pediatrics and director of pediatric dialysis at the University of Miami, presented the keynote address at JMU’s 31st Department of Chemistry Undergraduate Research Symposium.
Abitbol spoke to students and professors about the “chemistry” in medicine and about her life as a medical researcher. “Medicine is a passion that I cannot put aside,” said the former chemistry and biology major and student body president. Abitbol was one of the first thesis honors students in the chemistry department and was pleased to learn that Carrier Library still has her 1967 thesis, “An Investigation of the Surface Tension of Electrolytic Solutions.”
“I don’t really know why I picked this subject,” she said. “But I really wanted to jump in there and impress them.”
Abitbol earned her M.D. from the University of Virginia School of Medicine, specializing in surgery. “This was in the midst of the Vietnam conflict,” said Abitbol. “And for the first time it was made available to treat kidney failure with dialysis treatment, but not for women and children.”
Her residency at Emory University in Atlanta is where her “future started,” she said. There she met her husband, Andre Abitbol. And she completed a research project on amino acid patterns in low birth weight infants on parental alimentation. “I love babies and wanted to help them,” she said.
Abitbol also completed a fellowship in pediatric nephrology at the University of California, San Francisco, (where dialysis was first performed on children). “After the first child went through dialysis,” Abitbol remembered, “she said, ‘send out for a pizza.’”
A Fulbright-Hays Scholarship winner, Abitbol studied at Hôpital des Enfants Malades, in Paris. She then worked at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and the Cornell Medical Center as an assistant professor of pediatrics, where she dialyzed and saved more than 25 babies. Today, she works at the largest pediatric dialysis center in the country and has published nearly 60 peer-reviewed articles. Abitbol is the principal investigator on five ongoing research projects. “There is much chemistry in medicine and nephrology,” she told students. “We have to strive to keep the ‘science’ in medicine.”