Prof. Jagdish Butany as a "driving force"

Wednesday, August 7, 2013
Professor Jagdish Butany
Professor Jagdish Butany

“Dr. Butany is a driving force. He has a great curiosity as to how things work and the energy to follow up on these cases. That’s what pathology is all about. Following up on applied research and reporting back to the cardiovascular community and other clinicians,” says Malcolm Silver (MBBS, MD, PhD) former Chair of the Department of Pathology, University of Toronto.

From having a defective prosthetic heart valve pulled from the market, to conducting an autopsy on one of the first SARS victims, to educating thousands of students, the curiosity and energy of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology’s (LMP) Professor Jagdish Butany (MBBS, MS, FRCPC) have impacted medical practice, research and education in Canada and around the world.

For over 30 years Prof. Butany has worked as a cardiac pathologist, and since 1987 he has been the Director of the Autopsy Service at the University Health Network. He has been teaching at the University of Toronto since 1983, when he joined the Department of Pathology, later to become LMP.

Working at Canada’s largest diagnostic lab, and one of the largest academic hospitals in the world, Prof. Butany has certainly seen some rare and interesting cases. One such case appeared when a mysterious lung infection first emerged in Toronto in 2003. An infectious disease doctor urgently contacted Prof. Butany and requested that he perform an autopsy. Prior to leaving for a conference at 6:00am on a Saturday, Prof. Butany performed the autopsy, took samples of the lung tissue and sent them off to Vancouver. A week later, the dangerous spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) hit the news.

When asked why he took the risk of performing the autopsy, Prof. Butany replied, “I made sure that I took the proper precautions and I thought that if the infectious disease doctor was willing to treat the patient then I would perform the autopsy. It was the right thing to do.”

This leadership also applies to his clinical research. As an expert in pattern recognition, Prof. Butany realized that a prosthetic heart valve was malfunctioning earlier than expected. While the surgeons were busy dealing with patients on a case-by-case basis, it was his unique position as a pathologist, and his ability to see the larger pattern of patients being affected by these valves, that allowed him to link these seemingly unrelated cases. Ultimately, it was his research and persistence that lead to the valve being taken off the market. 

Colleague and former LMP Chair Avrum Gotlieb (BSc, MDCM, FRCPC) says, “He has used his clinical specimens very effectively to study the pathogenesis of heart valve disease and to study the wear and tear of prosthetic heart valves. Through this careful analysis of surgical and autopsy material, he has contributed to the development of safer heart valves and to the management of patients who have prosthetic valves in place.”

In addition to his publications on prosthetic heart valves, he has written over 250 peer-reviewed journal articles, has delivered numerous presentations and has contributed to several book chapters.

Prof. Butany was the co-editor of the journal Cardiovascular Pathology from 2001 to 2011 and has served on numerous committees including  his role as President of the Canadian Association of Pathologists and as President of the Society for Cardiovascular Pathology (SCVP). Most recently, he’ll be awarded the prestigious 2014 Distinguished Achievement Award from the Society for Cardiovascular Pathology.

During his extensive career, Prof. Butany has taught undergraduates, graduates, postgraduates and continuing medical education students in Canada and around the world. Prof. Butany understands the importance of being an educator, “As you grow older you develop expertise and you grow professionally. It’s important to go to meetings, to take courses and to continue to expand your horizons. I realize how fortunate I am and want to pay back to my institution and educate future generations.” In recognition of his impressive contributions to education he has won numerous awards including the J. B. Walter Prize for Teaching Excellence in 1993, the W. T. Aikens Award for Individual Teaching in 1995 and the Best Teacher Award in 2001.

What keeps Prof. Butany going? He explains, “There’s always a challenge even in the simplest possible case. Even after 32 years in the business, I still get surprises. That’s what keeps it interesting.”