Dr. Detweiler, Veterinary Medicine

Dr. David K. Detweiler, professor emeritus of physiology and animal biology in the School of Veterinary Medicine, died from esophageal cancer February 15, 2009, at the age of 89.

Dr. Detweiler, recognized as a world leader in comparative cardiology, received his VMD degree from Penn’s Vet School in 1942. He immediately joined the faculty as an assistant instructor in physiology and pharmacology. In 1944 he acted as head of physiology and pharmacology until 1947. During these early years in his career Dr. Detweiler carried a heavy teaching load but nevertheless found time to begin to collect a series of electrocardiograms from dogs in the clinic. This was the beginning of work which would develop into a life-long career in cardiology. With the retirement of Dr. Louis A. Klein in 1948, Dr. Detweiler took on the additional task of teaching pharmacotherapeutics along with Dr. John E. Martin.

In 1955-1956 Dr. Detweiler was a Guggenheim Fellow at the Veterinar Physiologisches Institut, Universität, Zurich.

In 1962 he became professor of physiology, with a joint appointment in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. From 1962 to 1968 he served as head of the Laboratory of Physiology and Pharmacology in the Veterinary School. From 1964 to 1970 Dr. Detweiler was professor of physiology in Penn’s Division of Graduate Medicine, and in 1970 he became head of the Graduate Group in Comparative Medical Science.

Dr. Detweiler was a guest lecturer in European schools, in 1963 at the Institut Für Tierpathologie, Universität München, in 1968 at the Freie Universität, Berlin, and in 1973 at the Tierärtztliche Hochschule, Hannover, Germany.

In addition to his teaching activities in physiology, pharmacology, and therapeutics, Dr. Detweiler presented numerous lectures, practicums, and short courses, taught graduate students, and had been responsible for a very active postdoctoral program in the Comparative Cardiovascular Studies Unit (CCSU).

Dr. Detweiler was one of the first of the “new breed” of faculty who appeared in the late 1940s and the 1950s and who, despite heavy teaching loads, made the necessary sacrifices to develop major areas of research. In his early career he often worked under “make-shift” conditions and with little financial support. In the 1950s he was able to obtain some small grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for epidemiological studies on heart disease in dogs. In 1960 he was awarded a one million dollar grant from NIH for a ten-year period to establish and support the CCSU. At the time this was the largest grant ever awarded to an individual at the Veterinary School. The creation of the CCSU established this School as the world center for comparative cardiovascular research, a position which it still holds today. The CCSU has provided training to numerous individuals in the field of comparative cardiovascular medicine.

Dr. Detweiler participated in over 80 invited lectures, symposia, and conferences. He contributed chapters or sections in over 25 textbooks, and published over 140 original papers. He served on many major committees in the Veterinary School and on over 12 national and international committees.

Dr. Detweiler’s contributions have been recognized in many ways. As a student he was elected to Phi Zeta, the honorary veterinary fraternity. In 1960 he received the Gaines Award and Medal from the American Veterinary Medical Association, and in 1966 was awarded the honorary degree of doctor of science by Ohio State University. In 1968 and 1969 he received the honorary degree of doctor of veterinary medicine from the Tierärtzliche Hochschule, Wien, and from the Veterinary School, University of Turin respectively. In 1974 he was elected to membership in the Institute of Medicine, National Academy of Sciences, Washington, DC. In 1982 the German speaking Group of the World Small Animal Veterinary Association established the D.K. Detweiler Prize, which is awarded annually for outstanding scientific work in cardiovascular research, especially as applied to small animals. He was also honored by the Penn Vet School with the Centennial Medal.

Dr. Detweiler’s contributions to the Veterinary School go far beyond his specific teaching and research activities. His early work came at a time when the Veterinary School had a great need to establish a research reputation; his work also helped draw other outstanding individuals to the School and to stimulate his own colleagues to engage in research. The reputation of the School was greatly enhanced within the University, and in the veterinary and medical professions on a world wide basis.

Dr. Detweiler is survived by his wife, Birthe; children, Ellyn Mendham, Diane Heller, David Detweiler, Jodi Naessig, Inge Detweiler, Kenneth Detweiler; stepchildren, Julie Sheehy, Henrick Ersbak, Claus Ersbak, Kenneth Ersbak; 18 grandchildren; 11 great grandchildren; and two nieces.