Spotlight on: Leopoldo F. Montes, MD, MS, FRCPC

04/16/2009

In dermatology, we are fortunate to have many of our profession’s innovators and great teachers still among us. This column was created so that we may gain insight from these practitioners and learn more about them. Some are bright stars in our special universe — others unsung heroes. All of these colleagues have much to share from wisdom to humor to insights into dermatology and life. Dr. Montes is a dermatologist in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He is the founder and first editor of the Journal of Cutaneous Pathology (1974-1981). He is author of Vitiligo: Nutritional Therapy (1999), Vitiligo: Current Knowledge & Nutritional Therapy (2006), and Atlas of Skin Diseases of the Horse (1983), and co-author of Scanning Electron Microscopy of Normal and Abnormal Human Skin (1987). Prior to returning to Argentina, Montes spent 25 years in academic dermatology in the United States, most of that time as a member of the dermatology faculty at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (now professor emeritus). He has been a Life Member of Academia Nacional De Medicina De Buenos Aires since 2006. Q. Why did you choose dermatology? A. At first, after graduating from the University of Buenos Aires, I thought I wanted to be a surgeon. I was lucky to be working in one of the leading private hospitals as an intern in surgery, but I soon realized that I worried too much about the patients. I’d get up in the middle of the night to see how they were doing. And my chief of surgery said, “You have good technical ability but you worry so much that you won’t be able to stand it after surgery.” So I switched to dermatology. Nevertheless, I ended up a few years later with a perforated duodenal ulcer, which required a subtotal gastrectomy performed by my former chief. Q. What is your greatest regret? A. When I had to close my electron microscope laboratory and stop looking at cutaneous bacteria in the skin ultrastructurally, which is still a wide open, almost virgin, field for research. Q. What is the best piece of advice you have received, and from whom? A. “Never stop doing research and keep writing about it,” from Walter Shelley and John Knox. Q. If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be? A. Find a rapid and permanent cure for all vitiligo patients. Q. What medical figure from history would you most like to have a drink with? Why? A. Arthur C. Curtis, perhaps the first Professor of Internal Medicine to become a dermatologist, who trained 150 residents in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Why? Because whenever I was with him I felt I was talking to a genius who not only would give me ideas for research but also would create the opportunity for it. Q. Have you had a “15-minutes of fame” moment and how did it come about? A. The electron microscopic discovery of Candida albicans’ intracellular location. While looking at scrapings from oral candidiasis with Walter Wilborn, unexpectedly, in our electron microscopy laboratory one Saturday afternoon, we were surprised to see this fungus penetrating the cells of the oral mucosa in an impressive fashion. It turned out to be the first ultrastructural demonstration of this fungus in human tissues.1 It led us to the systemic treatment of candidiasis with oral amphotericin B.2 Dr. Barankin is a dermatologist based in Toronto, Canada. He is author-editor of five books in dermatology, and is widely published in the dermatology and humanities literature. He is also co-editor of Dermanities (dermanities.com), an online journal devoted to the humanities as they relate to dermatology.