Edgar Frenk (1931-2018)

EDGAR FRENK (1931-2018)

Edgar Frenk, professor emeritus and former chairman of the department of dermatology and venerology at the CHUV in Lausanne, Switzerland, passed away peacefully, surrounded by his family, after a short illness. Professor Edgar Frenk made important contributions to the field of dermatology through his scientific research in the fields of photobiology and ultrastructure of the skin.  He was a past president of the European Society for Dermatological Research and had many friends and collaborators all over Europe, the UK and the US where he was trained.

Edgar Frenk was born 8 January 1931 and raised in Zürich where he spent most of his youth during world war 2nd. His strong interest in biology led him to study medicine, first in Paris, then in Zürich where he got his MD with a thesis on J.R. Burckhard’s Syllogae Phainomenon Anatomikum. He did his internship in Zurich and Davos and his residency in Dermatology in Lausanne (Prof. J. Delacrétaz), at St. Louis Hospital in Paris and at St. John’s Hospital in London (Prof. C.D. Calnan). After working as chief resident he spent a sabbatical at the Department of Dermatology at Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School in Boston together with Thomas B. Fitzpatrick in 1965 and 1966. As Harvard was the leading center of modern phototherapy, Edgar Frenk was trained in photobiology, phototherapy and the biology and pathology of pigmentation, but also extended his research to the disorders of keratinisation.

He then returned to Lausanne to establish a laboratory in biochemistry and ultrastructural research in the department of dermatology, became assistant professor in 1967, associate professor in 1973 and was chairman and ordinary professor from 1986 to 1996. During this time, Edgar Frenk developed important translational activities and adored to ask fundamental but clinically relevant questions in several fields of dermatology: not only in photobiology and pigmentation, but also in mycology, sexually transmitted infections, contact dermatitis and translational genetics. He is well remembered as the principal investigator organizing a memorable department journey to the close-by high altitude “Glaciers de Diablerets” during a sunny summer day, and convincing the residents to protect only one half of the face with sun screens (para-aminobenzoic acid its ester) and leave the other half unprotected in order to evaluate their efficacy. An experiment with guaranteed results, and many half-red faces ambulating through the hospital ward in the following week (see Pathak, Fitzpatrick and Frenk: NEJM 1969, 280:1459-1463). Not to forget is Edgar Frenk’s contributions to the Swiss Society of Dermatology and Venerology both as board member and secretary treasurer. His nature was rational and concise. As a testimony for this he handed only 6 small folders to his successor as Chair of the Department, telling him that this was all he needed.  Renato Panizzon, his successor, recalls that indeed he was right, it was all he needed !

After his retirement, Edgar Frenk regularly joined the clinical rounds of the Department until very recently, 22 years after his retirement. He was always actively participating in the scientific discussions with passion and critical thinking. Edgar Frenk was a truly remarkable physician, scientist and colleague: friendly, soft, firm and conciliator but always outspoken thinker who avoided unnecessary statements. It was not only a pleasure, but always a lesson to assist to his discussions over a first manuscript draft: they typically ended up half the original length, but with a much clearer and concise message.

Everybody in the Department of Dermatology at the CHUV greatly appreciated Professor Edgar Frenk. We will deeply miss him, as a remarkable chief, an outstanding physician, a passionate scientist and a faithful friend.

Daniel Hohl, Florence Baudraz, Michel Monod, Renato Panizzon, Michel Gilliet