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July 21, 2011

Obituary: Kalipatnapu N. Rao

A memorial service will be held 4-7 p.m. Aug. 20 at the Holiday Inn University Center for longtime professor of pathology Kalipatnapu N. Rao, who died July 4, 2011. He was 74.

A native of Narsapur, India, Rao earned his BS in chemistry at Bombay University, followed by a master’s degree in organic chemistry at Nagpur University and a PhD in biochemistry from Indian Agricultural Research Institute.

Rao, known to his colleagues as K.N. or Ken, came to Pitt in 1971 for his postgraduate work as a research associate and was appointed as a research instructor in 1973, the first of a number of academic positions he held over 31 years in the Department of Pathology, School of Medicine.

After a visiting professorship at the University of Cagliari in Sardinia, Italy, during fall 1983, he returned to Pitt in 1984 and was named a research associate professor in 1987, followed by promotion to associate professor in 1989 and professor in 1997.

Rao spent his early career at Pitt in the Division of Experimental Pathology working with a multi-investigator group on the biological basis of liver and pancreatic cancers. During that time he published extensively on animal models, defining metabolic interactions and alterations that lead to the cancers of these organs. He also taught in the graduate programs and mentored several medical, dental and doctoral students, as well as postdoctoral fellows.

Beginning in 1989 Rao served as the chief of the toxicology section in the pathology department’s Division of Clinical Chemistry, his academic home until he retired in 2004. There he implemented several analyses that were helpful in the care of patients presenting with complex toxins exposures. Through this work he developed close interactions with many clinicians, and published widely on clinical toxicology.

Colleagues remembered Rao as a man devoted to his family who took enormous pride and joy in his children’s achievements, as well as a devoted scientist and teacher.

Pathology department chair George Michalopoulos said: “Ken Rao was a dear friend and colleague whom we will all sorely miss. His earlier work in experimental pancreatic cancer laid the foundation for the role of nutrition in the development of this disease and was very respected. As a person, he was always very friendly and optimistic. Throughout his career at Pitt, he was the cornerstone of all toxicology evaluations in UPMC hospital laboratories. He directed that department with commitment to accuracy and diligence to detail, attributes that are essential in this field. Problems were for him an opportunity for solutions. He was also the face most frequently representing UPMC labs in the local courts, acting as an expert witness presenting the scientific facts of the lab results from toxicology assays.”

Pathology professor Mohamed Virji said: “K.N. was a good listener and an empathic person, the qualities that endeared him to students and trainees seeking advice and guidance in their studies. K.N.’s colleagues admired his calm demeanor and ready availability for help with projects and with critical appraisal of work in progress. He enjoyed discussions on scientific and clinical topics over a cup of tea, well recognizing the effect of getting individuals away from the busy laboratory environment so that issues could be addressed objectively, while still maintaining a passionate attachment to science and one’s views.”

Virji added that Rao enjoyed working with scientists and clinicians at other institutions, including in Italy and India where he visited regularly.

“He hosted colleagues from those countries during their visits to his laboratory, maintaining a continuity in flow of ideas and growth of scientific work,” Virji said. “He was involved in the founding of a program in applied research at the Nizam’s Institute of Medical Sciences in Hyderabad, India. He also provided his expertise for the development of a clinical toxicology laboratory at the P.D. Hinduja National Hospital and Medical Research Center in Mumbai, India.”

Prior to coming to Pitt, Rao was a research officer at India’s National Institute of Communicable Diseases, 1964-70.

He held specialty certification as a fellow of the American College of Forensic Examiners, and was a member in a number of professional and scientific societies, including the American Society for Nutritional Sciences, American Association for the Advancement of Science, American Society for Investigative Pathology, American Association for Cancer Research, American Association for Clinical Chemistry, Society of Toxicology, American Board of Forensic Examiners and Association of Clinical Biochemists of India.

Rao recently completed writing a textbook, “Forensic Toxicology: Medico-Legal Case Studies,” scheduled to be published next month, drawn from his experience as an expert legal witness in drug screening.

He was the principal investigator on a number of grants, many focused on acute pancreatitis, and was a frequent speaker nationally and internationally.

Rao also taught a variety of courses in the medical school, including cell structure and metabolism, and nutrition, as well as research and teaching seminars. He also routinely delivered two lectures annually to pathology residents and two to psychiatry residents.

Rao is survived by his wife, Rama K. Rao; his daughters, Padma Garvey and Uma Purighalla; his son, Babu Rao; three grandchildren, JoeJoe and Radha Garvey and Sandhya Purighalla; five brothers, and a sister.

The family suggests memorial donations be made to the American Diabetes Association, P.O. Box 11454, Alexandria, VA 22313.

Those wishing to attend the Aug. 20 memorial service are asked to RSVP by Aug. 7 to Padma Garvey, 100 Lytton Ave., Pittsburgh 15213; 412/682-6200;

—Peter Hart

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