The St. Luke's - Roosevelt Department of Surgery takes great pride in counting amongst its members Dr. Martin David Tilson III, an internationally recognized pioneer and ongoing contributor to our understanding of aortic aneurysms. In his distinguished career, Dr. Tilson not only enriched the academic world's concept of this life-threatening disease, but also inspired many young surgeons as they worked with him in the research laboratory that he has overseen during his time at our institution.
Dr. Tilson's academic interests evolved from a B.A. in Philosophy at Rice University in 1963. He embarked upon his medical education at Yale, where he earned his M.D. in 1967. Dr. Tilson stayed in New Haven for his surgical training and ultimately rose to the ranks of Professor and Chief of the Vascular Service. His initial research interests involved the study of intestinal adaptation, cell kinetics and compensatory hypertrophy of the gut. After a brief hiatus as a Major in the Medical Corps in the USAF Hospital at Westover Air Force Base, he returned to academia with research interests focused on aneurysmal disease. He was elected to the Society of University Surgeons in 1976, appointed to the Board of Governors of the American College of Surgeons in 1980 and elected to the Society of Vascular Surgery in 1981. The St. Luke's - Roosevelt Department of Surgery recruited him in the late eighties and he was honored as the Ailsa Mellon Bruce Professor of Surgery at Columbia University in 1989. Recently, Dr. Tilson was selected for inclusion in the first editions of two publications honoring exceptional individuals, One Thousand Great Americans and Living Legends.
In the early 1980's, Dr. Tilson's research group was the first to report instances of familial clustering of abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA). Today, as it is widely accepted that there is an inherited risk factor in this disease process, several laboratories around the world have joined the race to identify the AAA gene. In 1995, while Dr. Tilson chaired a symposium sponsored by the New York Academy of Sciences on the subject of AAA, his laboratory presented preliminary data implicating the gene HLA-DR-B1-15. This finding was confirmed by geneticists studying large populations in Japan and at the Mayo Clinic. Dr. Tilson's laboratory demonstrated this same HLA-DR haplotype in a gorilla (aneurysms are the second-leading cause of death in the Western Lowland Gorilla) who ruptured an aneurysm while at the San Diego Zoo.
Dr. Tilson's recent work examined several thousand genes expressed by fibroblasts cultured from human aneurysmal aortas and discovered a new type of collagen. Collagen XI is a constituent of the normal human aorta and its expression may be upregulated in aneurysmal disease.