Bryan Myers, physician and pioneer in nephrology research, dies at 86

The Stanford Medicine professor emeritus of nephrology was chief of the Division of Nephrology for nearly 20 years, training nephrologists who now practice around the world.

- By Jennifer Welsh

Bryan Myers, with his wife, Jean, on a trip to Alaska.
Courtesy of the Myers family

Bryan Myers, MB ChB, a professor emeritus of nephrology at the Stanford School of Medicine, died Jan. 27. He was 86.

As the longest-serving chief of the Division of Nephrology, from 1984 until 2003, he was a warm, empathetic mentor to junior faculty and students alike, his colleagues said, as well as a kind, caring physician and a pioneer of research on kidney disease.

“Bryan Myers embodied the best of physician-scientists,” said Lloyd Minor, MD, dean of the Stanford School of Medicine. “His boundless curiosity and compassion for patients led him to translate his research discoveries into better kidney care for so many people. He will be deeply missed.”

As chief, Myers oversaw the clinical training and formal education of around 100 doctors. Many of his trainees went on to practice nephrology around the world.

“He was the sort of person who didn’t like to say no to anybody,” said Ralph Rabkin, MD, professor emeritus of nephrology and a lifelong friend and colleague of Myers’. “He was very kind, his door was always open and he was always completely welcoming.”

From South Africa to Stanford

Myers was born Nov. 15, 1936. When he was young, he lived in rural South Africa in an Afrikaans-speaking town. Training with an elocution teacher at the behest of his mother gave Myers a distinct English accent.

Rabkin, who knew Myers’ parents well, said they strongly influenced him. “You could see where Bryan got his character — from his father, a caring clinician, and his mother, a bright, welcoming woman.”

Myers followed in his father’s footsteps, earning a medical degree from the University of Cape Town in 1959. He married his wife, Jean, while he was in medical school.

He completed medical fellowships in Cape Town and the United Kingdom, returning to Cape Town in 1969 to work for a year as a nephrologist at Groote Schuur Hospital. He and his family then moved to Israel, where Myers was chief of nephrology at Meir Hospital.

In 1974, Myers took a life-changing sabbatical year at UC San Francisco, studying animal kidneys. Rex Jamison, MD, emeritus professor of nephrology, said a desire to help his patients drove Myers to research.

“I think he was frustrated,” Jamison said, noting that treatment for chronic kidney disease was limited at the time. “I think it was natural for him to wonder that maybe if he got into research, he might be able to contribute to developing treatment options.”

Jamison met Myers in San Francisco and brought him to Stanford as a visiting clinician before he returned to Israel. “I had been so impressed with him … both with his research but mainly his clinical reputation,” Jamison said. “While he was at Stanford, he demonstrated that he was a master clinician.”

Later, when Jamison was recruiting faculty for the growing Division of Nephrology, he took a long shot and asked Myers to consider moving from Israel to the U.S. and join the Stanford faculty. In 1976, Myers agreed and became director of the Stanford Health Care Hemodialysis Clinic and an assistant professor of medicine.

Myers served as director of clinical nephrology, associate professor of medicine and medical director of the Stanford Center for Clinical Research before becoming chief of nephrology. While at the helm as division chief, he held an endowed chair in nephrology until 2006, when he became a professor emeritus.

A pioneer in kidney research

Myers started his research career relatively late in life, at age 38. He and his colleagues showed that kidney failure was caused by damage to the kidney’s glomeruli, the filtration units that create urine by removing waste from the blood. They examined kidney function by giving study participants harmless but unique sugars called dextrans of different sizes and electronic charges and then measuring how long it took the kidneys to process and excrete them. By comparing these results in healthy and sick kidneys, they could determine the type of damage that occurs in various kidney diseases.

Bryan and Jean Myers with grandchildren.
Courtesy of the Myers family

“Many years later, with new tools like the electron microscope, we can literally see the damage that he had predicted based on these models,” Jamison said. “His work has withstood the test of time.”

Myers and colleagues studied many forms of human kidney diseases — acute kidney injury, pregnancy and diabetic kidney disease, and the transplanted kidney. 

He also brought his research from the lab to the clinic to help his patients in intensive care units, dialysis centers or transplant wards. Myers also led a glomerular injury clinic that treated patients from all over the world.

He often grew close to his patients while treating them for many years. He was also willing to extend a hand to those he didn’t know well. Once, for example, he invited a lonely South American patient to his family home to celebrate the Sabbath, according to Rabkin.

“My dad was always a very hard worker,” said his eldest son, Mark Myers, PhD. “To him, what was important was to do things that benefited others. He wasn’t interested in making money or being in private practice, but he felt like his research and clinical work were a contribution to other people.”

A loving family man

In college, Bryan Myers was an athletic rugby player; later in life, he played a mean game of tennis, Jamison said. He rode his bicycle to work almost every day and enjoyed taking bike rides with friends and family up Alpine Road in the Los Altos foothills, near the Stanford University campus.

He loved listening to chamber music and walking to get a cappuccino and chocolate chip cookie, Mark Myers said. “I think there are still people at the local Starbucks who would remember him.”

In his retirement, he and his wife, Jean, traveled to Europe, Israel and Australia, where he had a sister, and to see his sons and grandchildren.

“They were great grandparents,” Mark Myers said. “They would visit regularly and spend a lot of time with the kids, especially when they were little.”

Bryan Myers was active in his synagogue, Congregation Beth Jacob, in Redwood City and was involved in the Jewish community.

In 1998 he was named a Champion of Hope by the National Kidney Foundation of Northern California. In 2003, Myers won Stanford Medicine’s prestigious Albion Walter Hewlett Award, which honors exceptional physicians. After his retirement, the Division of Nephrology established the Bryan Myers lectureship in his honor in 2019.

Myers is survived by his wife, Jean; his sons, Mark of San Diego and Roy of Phoenix; a brother and sister; and four grandchildren.

About Stanford Medicine

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