Robert B. Greenblatt was an eminent physician, medical researcher, and scholar at the Medical College of Georgia (later Georgia Health Sciences University) in Augusta. At MCG Greenblatt pioneered endocrinology as an independent discipline and from 1946 to 1972 served as professor and chair of the school’s department of endocrinology, the first such academic department in the United States.
Born on October 12, 1906, in Montreal, Canada, Robert Benjamin Greenblatt attended McGill University in Montreal, where he received his B.A. degree in 1928 and his M.D. and C.M. degrees in 1932. In 1935, after completing his internship, he joined MCG as a research fellow in pathology and resident in obstetrics and gynecology. In 1937 he was appointed assistant professor of pathology and gynecology, and two years later he was named professor of experimental medicine. He and his wife, Gwendolyn, had three children.
In his early years at MCG Greenblatt worked with Edgar Pund to describe the pathonomic cell in granuloma inguinale, a widely endemic venereal disease. His finding that mycins (a type of antibiotic) could cure this disease was a major contribution to public health and was responsible for the eradication of this disease in the South.
Soon after the United States entered World War II (1941-45), Greenblatt joined the navy. As a naval officer, he helped eradicate granuloma inguinale among sailors’ families in Savannah and was one of the first U.S. scientists to investigate the effects of the atomic bomb dropped at Nagasaki, Japan. In 1946 he returned to MCG to serve as professor and chairman of the Department of Endocrinology, the first in the country.
Greenblatt started his clinical work in reproductive endocrinology, the branch of medicine concerned with infertility in women, when the field was in its infancy. His many major advances in the field include showing in 1950 the effectiveness of estrogens in managing menopause symptoms and developing in 1966 a monthly oral contraceptive pill, for which MCG received national attention. Greenblatt also made significant contributions to the diagnosis and management of hirsute women with polycystic ovaries and failure of menses. His group’s discovery in 1961 that clomiphene citrate could induce ovulation was a breakthrough in reproductive biology, and clomiphene citrate is today the first choice in treating ovulatory disorders. He also showed that the drug Danazol was useful in the management of endometriosis and fibrocystic breast disease.
Greenblatt’s advances and contributions in the management and treatment of endocrine disorders are described in hundreds of full-length scientific articles and book chapters and in more than twenty authored or edited books. He also wrote for a lay audience, updating “Advances in Endocrinology” in the Encyclopedia Britannica Yearbook for eighteen years. His book Search the Scriptures: Modern Medicine and Biblical Personages (1968) went through twenty-six printings.
The recipient of a teaching excellence award from MCG students as well as numerous awards and honorary degrees from organizations in the United States and abroad, Greenblatt attracted both postdoctoral fellows for training and patients from around the world. He died on September 27, 1987. MCG’s library was renamed in his honor in 1988.