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Spring/Summer 2011

Temporal Bone Titan

An expert on ear disorders, Nager built an extraordinary collection.

By: Neil A. Grauer
Date: May 20, 2011

George T. Nager
photo courtesy of the Alan Chesney Medical Archives

George T. Nager, former director of the Department of Otolaryngology–Head and Neck Surgery, built an international reputation on the extraordinary collection he assembled of temporal bones—the four-part structures on each side of the skull that house the inner ear’s delicate components.

The first temporal bone collection in the United States, it was begun by Nager’s mentor, Stacy Rufus Guild, and it captivated the Swiss-born-and-educated Nager when he arrived at Hopkins as a resident in 1952. Nager never left, joining the faculty in 1954. He set to work organizing and expanding the Temporal Bone Pathology Laboratory, which contained many specimens obtained during Hopkins autopsies. Under his leadership, it became world famous as the seedbed of crucial studies and breakthroughs in the understanding and patho-physiology of ear diseases and how to treat them—a position of prominence it still retains.

Nager died last December 9 from complications of a stroke. He was 93.

The son of an otolaryngologist, Nager had a passion for medicine and contagious exuberance when engaged in research, said Lloyd Minor, a protégé who headed otolaryngology–head and neck surgery from 2003 until he was appointed Hopkins’ provost and senior vice president for academic affairs in 2009. Minor told The Sun that Nager “was a brilliant scientist, an engaging teacher, and a superb clinician. He trained many residents and established a high level of clinical care and research.”

Nager, who headed the department from 1969 to 1984, was known worldwide for his substantial research and discoveries concerning common ear disorders, such as otosclerosis, an abnormal bone growth in the middle ear that results in hearing loss and meningitis. He wrote Pathology of the Ear and Temporal Bone, a landmark text, and other works that remain standard references in the field. Among his many honors was election to the American Otological Society, which restricts membership to 100 living scholars.

Even after his retirement as department director, Nager continued meeting with faculty and trainees in his home, offering them his unique guidance and insight; visiting the clinic, and working with other researchers. Among those with whom Nager collaborated in the early 1990s was Minor. It was in the laboratory that Nager originally developed that Minor and other colleagues subsequently made their 1995 discovery of superior canal dehiscence syndrome (SCDS), also known as “Minor syndrome,” a debilitating disorder characterized by sound- or pressure-induced dizziness. Minor later developed the surgical procedure for correcting the problem and alleviating its symptoms.

Nager’s legacy will endure. In 2003, an endowed professorship was named in his honor with the support of former patients of his and John Niparko, currently interim director of otolaryngology–head and neck surgery, and the first to hold the George T. Nager Professorship. Neil A. Grauer

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