Accomplishments of A. B. Baker. M.D.

By Sidney K. Shapiro


DR. A. B. BAKER typifies the American success story. The confidence and vision of his mother, who in his formative years played a guiding role in directing her son into medicine, have been amply rewarded in his illustrious career. Dr. Baker was born March 27, 1908. He received his early education in the Minneapolis school system and then entered the University of Minnesota . In his undergraduate years his academic prowess received recognition as he was selected for memberships in Phi Beta Kappa, Alpha Omega Alpha, and Sigma Xi. He received his B.A. in 1928, his B.S. in 1929, and then his M.B. with distinction in 1930, graduating with a degree of Doctor of Medicine in 1931. He then went on to obtain his M.S. in 1932 and his Ph.D. in neuropathology in 1934. Dr. Baker was a teaching assistant in neuropathology from 1931 to 1934 and a teaching assistant in neuropsychiatry from 1934 to 1937. He then served, as an instructor in neurology and neuropathology for one year and, in 1938, became an assistant professor, remaining in that capacity, until 1941 when he became an associate professor. His outstanding contributions in these fields brought him recognition, and in 1946 he became professor and director of the division of neurology, University of Minnesota, and has continued in this position to the present.


Throughout Dr. Baker’s career at the University of Minnesota, his prime dedication has been to teaching and research in the field of neurology. His basic training in pathology and virology prepared him well for his significant research contributions that began with his initial interest in the field of encephalitis. His Ph.D. thesis was on hemorrhagic encephalitis, and in the course of this work he became the first to isolate the virus of this disease. His interest in the field of infections of the nervous system has continued through the years and when the reference book in neurology; Clinical Neurology, was published, Dr. Baker wrote the 2 chapters on infections of the nervous system. At this time, sufficient data and information have been collected for a contemplated 2-volume book on infections of the nervous system but completion of this project has, of necessity, been postponed because of the pressures of his many other duties; From 1946 to 1949, III autopsies were performed on patients who had died from bulbar poliomyelitis. Intensive studies of the nervous system including studies of the spinal cord and the whole of the brain were made and these proved to be the most comprehensive ever carried on in this disease. In 1947 his publications commenced in the field of poliomyelitis and this series continued until 1955. The pathological studies were correlated with the clinical pictures presented by these patients. Dr. Baker’s work on the pathology of bulbar poliomyelitis is the definitive work in the field and for the first time accurately localized the respiratory center in man. This location was found to be at variance with the location of the respiratory center in animals. In 1946 he first applied the technique of tracheotomy in the treatment of bulbar poliomyelitis and this resulted in the immediate reduction of the death rate in this form of the disease by 80%. Since that time, this technique of tracheotomy has been adapted to the treatment of many neurological illnesses with bulbar manifestations with beneficial results.


In 1945 Dr. Baker helped organize one of the first programs for rehabilitation of chronically disabled neurological patients at the Veteran’s Hospital in Minneapolis. This program resulted in the rapid spread of the discipline of rehabilitation throughout the country and with the establishment of departments of physical medicine and rehabilitation in many schools. When the University took over the neurological service at Veteran’s Hospital, it took from one to twenty years for a patient to be rehabilitated from a paralytic disease; an afflicted person was considered useless. Three years after he started. Dr. Baker had reduced the twenty-year period of six weeks. Dr. Baker's work has enabled thousands of paralytic patients to lead useful lives.


In 1955, after ten years of work, Dr. Baker became editor of the first reference volume of neurology in the United States . This work consisted of 3 volumes and contained 2,000 pages of material covering all phases of clinical neurology. These volumes were so popular that the entire edition was exhausted and out of print in one and one-half years. In 1962 Dr. Baker completed the second edition of “Clinical Neurology” which was published in 4 volumes, covering 2,316 pages. This is now the only definitive reference work available.


The publications of Dr. Baker have covered all phases of the field of neurological diseases. His primary current interest is in the field of vascular diseases and publications on this subject commenced in 1957. At the present time an epidemiological study is being done. The energy and enthusiasm that Dr. Baker brought to bear at Minnesota were duplicated by his energies for furthering the cause of the etiology of cerebral arteriosclerosis in an attempt to find out what factors may play a role in the production of cerebral arteriosclerosis. This is was done concomitantly with researchers in Norway Japan, Mexico, and more currently in Nigeria Four thousand cases are currently being studied at the University of Minnesota, with the projection of at least 10,000 patients being ultimately included in the current study. The Japanese will have 2,000 to 3,000 cases, and in Mexico an additional 2,000 patients will be added to the total patients studied. Clinical cerebrovascular disease is being studied intensively in an effort to find out what factors predispose strokes. This is being correlated with the Japanese study. Preliminary studies are being performed under a five-year grant from the U.S. Public Health Service, with $1.25 million being expended for this initial work. In order to comprehend the scope of the contemplated operations, it will suffice to say that an additional $2.8 million is being projected as the budget for continuation of this work.


During the past fourteen years since Dr. Baker assumed control, the department of neurology has grown from a unit with I trainee to its current size in which there are 22 trainees. The staff has grown to 22 full-time people. In addition, there has been an affiliation with the Veteran’s Administration Hospital , Ancker Hospital , St. Paul ; and Hennepin County General Hospital , Minneapolis . Each of these hospitals has its own full-time staff that is under the direct control and guidance of the division of neurology. At the university there has developed a unit of neuropathology with 2 full-time neuropathologists, a unit of electrophysiology with 3 full-time electrophysiologists, a unit of neurochemistry with 3 full-time neurochemists, and a full-time electromyographer in charge of electromyography. The research space has expanded from a single room in the old Millard Hall to the present 15,000 sq.ft. area, and once again the department is feeling the need for additional space. At this time the budget for the department approximates $1 million per year, which gives some indication of what Dr. Baker’s leadership has accomplished. Dr. Baker is held in high esteem by both the undergraduate and graduate students whom he has taught to date have numbered 238.


During the years when the student body gave a cup for the outstanding teacher in the medical school, Dr. Baker was a consistent winner. In 1963, as a token of their esteem, the neurologists whom Dr. Baker had been instrumental in training, commissioned an original oil portrait to be painted of him. At a testimonial dinner, during which this portrait was presented, 180 people assembled to pay their tribute to this outstanding teacher.


Reprinted from THE JOURNAl.-LANCET, Minneapolis , March 1967, Vol. 87, No. 3.