Former department chair honored with Lifetime Achievement Award

Edward Block, M.D., at his retirement celebration in November of last year. Photo by Jesse S. Jones

The patient was dying, a victim of too much oxygen. The idea confounded Edward Block, M.D., then a young doctor.

“I was so flabbergasted that (doctors) could give too much oxygen so that it would damage someone’s lungs and kill them,” said Block, a distinguished professor of medicine in the College of Medicine and former chair of the department of medicine. “It never struck me that oxygen could be harmful.”

This notion that oxygen could have ill effects on the body sparked Block’s three-decades long research career studying the endothelial cells that line blood vessels in the lungs. These cells play a key role in the lungs because it’s the place in the body where blood comes in closest contact with the air we breathe. Consistently funded by the National Institutes of Health, Block’s pioneering research led to a greater understanding of how these cells work and the various roles they play, from transporting toxins out of the body to serving metabolic functions.

Block’s research career is just one of the accomplishments that has earned him a Lifetime Achievement Award from the College of Medicine Faculty Council, an honor he was surprised to receive.

“I am delighted, so honored and humbled,” he said of the award. “I never expected anything like this.”

For eight-and-a-half years Block served as chair of the College of Medicine’s largest department, stepping down in the fall of 2010. It was a job he never imagined taking when he was younger, but one he describes now as the pinnacle of his career.

During Block’s tenure as chair, the department grew significantly and made major strides in research, education and patient care, says John Wingard, M.D., a professor of medicine in the division of hematology/oncology who served as interim chair of the department when Block stepped down. Under Block’s guidance, the department received its first Golden Apple Award, an honor graduating College of Medicine students give each year to what they think is the best clinical or basic science department. The department won this award six of the eight years Block was chair. During his last three years as chair, six of the department’s divisions were recognized in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings of top specialties.

“He guided the department through tough times but made us better,” Wingard said. “The size grew, the research enterprise grew, there was a greater focus on education … he is a very selfless individual who was dedicated to his faculty. He helped many people advance their careers.”

In addition to the roles he played at UF, Block also has served as president of the Florida Thoracic Society and president of the American Thoracic Society and was appointed by Florida’s governor to serve on the state’s Biomedical Research Advisory Council.

He earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from Johns Hopkins University, entering medical school with the goal of working as a family physician in Appalachia.

Retiring at the end of the month, Block will serve as medical director of a UF and Shands Medical Concierge Program and plans to work with the Cade Museum for Innovation and Invention. The inventor of Gatorade, the late James Robert Cade, M.D., was one of Block’s heroes.

“I feel good about what I did,” Block said. “I never had a vision that I would ever do the things I did in my career. I was just trying to work hard, answer a few questions and do the best I could.”