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PRODUCED BY AND FOR MEMBERS OF THE DEPARTMENT OF SURGERY July 2013 | Archived Issues

Achilles A. Demetriou, MD, PhD, Former Department of Surgery Chair, 1946-2013

Achilles A. Demetriou, MD, PhD, an internationally distinguished surgical scientist who spent nearly four decades investigating and treating liver disease, and who led Cedars-Sinai's Department of Surgery to national distinction, has died. He was 67.

Demetriou was widely known for his research of artificial and cell-based liver support systems, transplantation biology and genetic abnormalities in liver disease. He held nine patents in connection with his research, lectured around the world, and wrote extensively about liver disease and related subjects in the highest quality, peer-reviewed journals and textbooks.

The soft-spoken physician, who helped pioneer the development of a bioartificial liver two decades ago, died June 20 at home in suburban Cleveland after a long battle with liver cancer.

"Achilles Demetriou's creative genius immeasurably advanced the understanding of liver disease, and his leadership blazed new paths for Cedars-Sinai's surgical innovation," said Thomas M. Priselac, president and chief executive officer of Cedars-Sinai Health System.

Demetriou became chair of the Department of Surgery in 1995 and spent a decade building a succession of programs and services in liver transplantation, neurosurgery, orthopedics, urology, spine surgery and other specialties.

Colleagues credit Demetriou with elevating the department's surgical residency program by attracting many of the best and brightest candidates with the dual promise of surgical training and laboratory experience. His programs would spawn a new generation of surgical scientists. Demetriou's talent and his diplomatic treatment of others, many recalled, made him an effective department chairman.

"He was a fine surgeon and leader, and more importantly, a gentleman of the greatest integrity," recalled Bruce Gewertz, MD, Cedars-Sinai surgeon-in-chief, vice president for Interventional Services, vice dean of Academic Affairs and the H & S Nichols Distinguished Chair in Surgery. "He's the architect of our modern Department of Surgery. His legacy remains strong in the hearts of those he supported."

Demetriou spent 13 years at Cedars-Sinai, serving a stint as director of the medical center's Liver Support Unit. In 1998, he was named the Esther and Mark Schulman Chair in Surgery and Transplantation Medicine.

He never wavered from his professional passion and lifelong research aim: searching for solutions to acute liver failure. He wrote 200 papers in peer-reviewed journals, edited the standard guide "Support of the Acutely Failing Liver" and was associate editor of the definitive "Textbook of Surgical Research." His nine patents included one for an artificial liver apparatus and another for a novel gene associated with liver cirrhosis.

"He was a consummate surgical scientist who was very smart and very creative, and he made major scholarly contributions to our understanding of the surgical and cell-based treatment of liver disease," said Shlomo Melmed, MD, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, dean of the Medical Faculty and the Helene A. and Philip E. Hixon Chair in Investigative Medicine. "At Cedars-Sinai, he significantly expanded the platform for surgical excellence and innovation that we continue to enjoy."

Born in Cyprus, Demetriou received his medical degree from Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School in Jerusalem and his PhD in biochemistry from George Washington University in Washington.

He served his internship at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York and his residency in surgery at Vanderbilt University in Nashville. Demetriou spent three years as a research fellow in biochemical pharmacology at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md.

Before joining Cedars-Sinai in 1992, he was director of the S.R. Light Surgical Research Laboratory at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, where he also held the Paul W. Sanger Chair in Surgery and served as chief of surgical services at the Nashville VA Medical Center.

In 2005, Demetriou moved to the University Hospitals Health System in Cleveland, where he became chief operating officer; he also held the position of vice dean for Clinical Affairs at the affiliated Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. He retired at the end of 2012.

Demetriou also served on several National Institutes of Health panels and was a faculty member of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Training School for FDA staff. He also was a founding member of the Cell Transplant Society and the World Association of Hepato-Biliary-Pancreatic Surgery. In 1998, he was elected into the Academy of Athens as a Corresponding Member.

"Achilles was a great surgeon and a great scientist who mentored large numbers of young faculty," recalled Zab Mosenifar, MD, co-director of the Women's Guild Lung Institute at Cedars-Sinai and the Geri and Richard Brawerman Chair in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, who worked closely with Demetriou. "He was savvy and tough but had a soft and tender side to him. I am saddened immensely by his loss."