Tristam Parslow


Tristram Parslow

83MD, 83 PhD – Biochemistry

Tristram Parslow has excelled in every aspect of his career—as a researcher, teacher, and department leader. His early work at the University of Iowa on immunoglobulin gene expression addressed issues that stumped Nobel laureates and National Academy of Sciences members. While on the pathology department faculty at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) at the height of the AIDS epidemic, Parslow engaged in a series of studies of the molecular virology of HIV and other RNA viruses, including influenza. In the 14 years since Parslow joined Emory University as chair of the Department of Pathology, their annual National Institutes of Health (NIH) funding has grown from $12 million to $34 million. He continues to lead and mentor others in the field, both at Emory and as president of the Association of Pathology Chairs.

A native of Grinnell, Parslow’s style and approach have been described as “quintessentially Iowan,” but his humble demeanor belies his astonishing accomplishments.

His mentor at the UI College of Medicine, Daryl Granner, MD, says, “At every step in his career, Tris Parslow has challenged himself, and others around him, to achieve their very best. He has done so with class, honesty, modesty, and a wonderful sense of life balance and humor.”

From his perspective, Parslow recounts the atypical Socratic teaching style Granner and Nicholas Halmi, MD, would use in an endocrinology lecture.

“Every medical student from that time remembers the exchanges Granner and Halmi had. Instead of questioning the class, they would question each other. It was a great way to learn,” he says. “The faculty at Iowa are brilliant, and they see it as their job to help you succeed.”

Educating the next generations has been a point of pride for Parslow. He used his experiences in the Medical Scientist Training Program (MSTP) at Iowa as a model to help shape a similar program at UCSF, which he directed for 10 years.

“Directing the MSTP program at UCSF is one of my proudest accomplishments,” he says. “When I attended the MSTP at Iowa as a member of its very first entering class, this type of program was much less common than it is today. That opportunity at Iowa was the basis for my entire career, and leading the MSTP at UCSF was a great way to give back.”

Parslow’s achievements extend well beyond teaching. His career at UCSF included establishing a well-funded research laboratory, in which he examined virus RNA structure, regulation and replication.

Since 2003, Parslow has been chair of the Department of Pathology at Emory University, which includes over 100 faculty and 48 house officers. In addition to his success in attracting NIH funding, he is also recognized for his ability to recruit top-tier talent to the research division and clinical faculty.

Sharon Weiss, MD, professor of pathology and laboratory medicine, and associate dean for faculty affairs emerita at Emory, describes chairing a pathology department as “one of the most difficult jobs in an academic medical center.”

“Pathology is a basic science department and a clinical department wrapped into one package. A successful pathology chair must have an understanding and appreciation of both, the ability to balance the needs of each, and the wisdom to make fair decisions. Many pathology chairs never succeed at this,” she says. “We are fortunate at Emory to have a chair who has accomplished this in a modest and unassuming way.”