Benjamin Spargo, MD, Innovative Kidney Pathologist, 1919-2014

An early electron microscope in use at UChicago (Photo: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf3-01055, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library)

An early electron microscope in use at UChicago (Photo: University of Chicago Photographic Archive, apf3-01055, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library)

Benjamin Spargo, SB’48, SM’52, MD’52, professor emeritus of pathology at the University of Chicago and a renowned renal pathologist, died in┬áChicago, on May 30. He was 94 years old.

Benjamin Spargo, MD

Benjamin Spargo, MD

Spargo was a pioneer in applying the electron microscope, a scarce resource at the time, to clinical diagnosis. In the late 1950s, he was the first to develop diagnostic criteria and demonstrate the value of routine use of the electron microscope for biopsies of the kidney. He and his team methodically mapped out the microscopic structural changes to kidney cells associated with various renal diseases. They eventually convinced other pathologists that focusing on consistent correlations between changes in structure and altered function could dramatically improve diagnoses.

Although many physicians were initially skeptical of the new technique, a 1973 study by Spargo and a colleague from Yale showed that in 11 percent of cases, electron microscopy led to a substantially different diagnosis than light microcopy, which was the current standard. In an additional 36 percent of cases, electron microscopy could refine and sub-classify the diagnosis. It could also document changes caused by advancing disease, or by treatment. Such studies slowly convinced others in the field that electron microscopy could provide a more accurate diagnosis and even predict response to treatment.

“Physicians from other medical centers sent their challenging diagnoses to Ben for analysis,” said nephrologist Gary Toback, MD, professor of medicine at the University of Chicago. “He assembled an enormous referral network and he would routinely share their most interesting cases with his team. It was a source of continuing education.”

Read more about Dr. Spargo’s life and career in our Newsroom.

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