TAMPA — Archie Silver was a doctor who considered the stethoscope and the otoscope just as important as his psychiatric knowledge. He listened to a child's heartbeat as carefully as he absorbed behaviors, which included the sudden whoops and jerks of Tourette syndrome.
A leading expert on Tourette's, Dr. Silver devoted much of his career to its cure. Some of his most important accomplishments — including a co-patent on a promising new drug — came in a second career as the University of South Florida's chief of child and adolescent psychiatry that lasted almost as long as his first, a 30-year stretch at New York University's Bellevue Hospital. His observations on the antidepressant effects of a drug once used for high blood pressure have resulted in a recent windfall for USF, with the potential to reap millions more.
Dr. Silver, whose careful eye and old-school approach to medicine over 55 years set him apart, died Feb. 24, a result of complications from a fall. He was 93.
"He was an enormously generous man who had a true love for anything to do with science," said Francisco Fernandez, the head of psychiatry at USF's College of Medicine. "His greatest contribution to all of us was to show that by caring and giving basic assistance, you can also provide hope for people who are suffering with mental illness."
To USF researcher Doug Shytle, Dr. Silver was a throwback.
"I take my son to a pediatrician, and I get three referrals," said Shytle, 43. "Dr. Silver was all of those things wrapped up in one. If you brought a child in to see him, he listened to their heart. He looked at their ears and nose."
Medical students and psychiatric residents had better be as well rounded, or face his wrath. "I've seen students come out of his office in tears," Shytle said. "He would ask them questions about internal medicine or dermatology and expect them to know the answers."
He got interested in Tourette's, a disorder affecting more than 200,000 Americans in its severest form but as many as one in 100 in milder forms, while working with children at Bellevue, a teaching hospital of the New York University College of Medicine. His desire to help children rose to the top of his priorities.
"He wanted to find the biological causes of mental illness in children and help them develop well," said USF psychiatrist Kailie Shaw.
Dr. Silver came to Florida in 1979 with his wife, Mary Louise, and every intention of retiring. Instead, he began a 25-year career with USF, starting in his early '60s.
USF researchers including Dr. Silver, Shytle and neurological research director Paul Sanberg looked for drugs to the defeat symptoms of Tourette's, which range from a wide variety of verbal and physical tics, in most cases, to bursts of obscenities in a minority of cases.
The group eventually came to believe that mecamylamine, a drug used 40 years earlier to treat high blood pressure, might calm the tics of Tourette's. The team secured funding and readied a major experiment. Results were disappointing. The tics did not lessen.
Dr. Silver wasn't ready to give up on mecamylamine. He treated children who had participated in the study and watched them carefully.
"He said, 'You know what? Their mood is greatly improved,' " Fernandez said.
While mecamylamine didn't work for the tics, "Dr. Silver observed that it seemed to make kids feel better," Shytle said.
The team patented its version of the drug and pitched it to pharmaceutical companies — as an antidepressant for Tourette's patients and possibly others. Dr. Silver retired in 2004, but watched with interest as a Targacept, a North Carolina company, explored TC-5214, the drug developed by his group.
The payoff came when pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca announced plans in December to join Targacept in $200 million-deal to develop TC-5214
Getting there will take years, if it happens at all. "I think he was very much of a realist," said Shaw. "As a scientist, you don't count your chickens before they hatch."
Still, the AstraZeneca news made Dr. Silver very happy. His colleagues delivered the news to him bedside at University Community Hospital.
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or [email protected]