September 15, 2011

Renowned federal researcher, VUSM alum Bruce Dan dies

Renowned federal researcher, VUSM alum Bruce Dan dies

Bruce Dan, M.D., a 1974 Vanderbilt University School of Medicine alumnus and leading federal researcher who helped establish a link between toxic shock syndrome and the use of tampons, died last week in Baltimore of complications from a bone marrow transplant for leukemia. He was 64.

Bruce Dan, M.D.

Bruce Dan, M.D.

Dr. Dan, adjunct associate professor of Preventive Medicine at Vanderbilt, was a member of the Toxic Shock Syndrome Task Force created by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in 1980 after an outbreak of the disease.

The group traveled around the country and to several foreign countries investigating the outbreaks of the infection caused by a strain of the bacterium Staphylococcus aureus.

The team found that a high number of cases were in previously healthy women who used super-absorbent tampons during menstruation, specifically the Procter & Gamble Rely brand because its lubricant significantly increased the level of toxins in the bacterium. The tampon was removed from the market following the investigation.

“Bruce was an especially energetic and imaginative epidemiologist,” said William Schaffner, M.D., professor and chair of Preventive Medicine.

Dr. Dan later became editor of The Journal of the American Medical Association, an on-camera medical expert for WLS-TV in Chicago, and then executive editor and anchor for the Medical News Network, which provides daily newscasts directly to physician’s offices.

He also conducted media training for academic faculty members at Vanderbilt and other institutions.

“Bruce simply was the best communicator I’ve ever met,” Schaffner said. “His plain language and logical presentations made complex ideas crystal clear to lay persons and medical professionals alike.

“He taught many doctors how to communicate more effectively with their patients and the public.”

Dr. Dan began a blog about his struggle with leukemia in April 2010, an insightful look at his first-hand encounter with a life-threatening illness.
The blog can be viewed at

Dr. Dan is survived by his wife, ABC News correspondent Lisa Stark, a daughter and a son.