Workdays, Solomon builds knowledge. For 42 years, he has guided cancer research at the UT Graduate School of Medicine in what has become the longest standing National Institutes of Health (NIH) grant in UT history. Solomon came to UT, lured by the beauty of East Tennessee and the chance to pursue answers to devastating diseases. A native New Yorker, he got his first taste of the South while at Duke Medical School, where he decided on a specific career path.
"Some of the most inspiring teachers there were what’s called clinical investigators," he recalls. "They were physicians who took care of patients and also did laboratory research. Seeing their excitement intrigued me. I realized that in order to make any progress in medicine, it had to be in research. Otherwise, you do the same things day in and day out."
That led him to additional training at the NIH National Cancer Institute, where he became familiar with the relatively new field of oncology, and then to Rockefeller University Institute for Medical Research.
Solomon’s research team tackles amyloidosis, a disease involving normal proteins that become misfolded and deposited throughout the body. In this unstable state, the proteins can form hair-like fibers, or fibrils, that are deposited into vital organs like the heart, kidneys and brain, causing organ failure and, eventually, death. Amyloid-related diseases include Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Lou Gehrig’s, Huntington’s, Type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer.
Throughout his training and subsequent career, Solomon has kept in his mind and heart the desire to relieve suffering.
"A patient of mine was a public school teacher. She had amyloid disease and died 10 years ago. I was very fond of her and her family, and I went to her funeral. Afterward, when speaking with her husband, I made a promise that we’d do something to affect this disease that took his wife. When I make a promise, I try to keep it. My patients are my greatest motivation."
He also draws inspiration from his large research staff: "I owe a debt of gratitude to these folks who truly have been partners in this research."
But perhaps his greatest inspiration has been his own father, who had to drop out of school at age 12 to support his family but who, nevertheless, found a way to go to school at night and then attend evening law school. Eventually, he became a senior partner in a large New York law firm. "My father was a great influence," Solomon recalls. "In 1978 he was inducted into the Horatio Alger Society alongside other distinguished Americans like Hank Aaron, Mary Kay Ash and Willie Shoemaker."
The UT Graduate School of Medicine, part of the UT Health Science Center, is home to more than 200 teaching physicians and researchers and more than 175 medical and dental resident physicians in 12 residency and nine fellowship programs. For more information, visit http://gsm.utmck.edu/.
Alan Solomon is also involved with arts organizations such as the Clarence Brown Theatre and the Knoxville Museum of Art. He and his wife, Andrea G. Cartwright, have four sons.