Dr. Burton Combes: Professor Emeritus, 52-year faculty member

Dr. Burton Combes, Professor Emeritus of Internal Medicine at UT Southwestern Medical Center and a former Ashbel Smith Professor, died on Nov. 23. He was 86.

Dr. Burton Combes
Dr. Burton Combes

Dr. Combes served as a UT Southwestern faculty member for 52 years and leaves a distinguished legacy in the field of hepatology. His contributions helped establish UT Southwestern’s program as a national leader.

Dr. Combes was born in 1927 in New York City. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Columbia University in 1947 and his medical degree from Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons in 1951. After completing an internship and residency at New York Presbyterian Hospital, he became a research fellow of the American Heart Association, serving at Columbia and later the University College Hospital Medical School in London.

He joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 1957. Under his leadership, Dr. Combes established and directed the medical center’s liver unit for more than 40 years. He received a Research Career Development Award from the U.S. Public Health Service in 1962, served as President of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases in 1971, and received AASLD’s Distinguished Service Award in 1984.

“Burt Combes was present at the very beginning of American hepatology,” said Dr. William Lee, Director of the Clinical Center for Liver Disease at UT Southwestern and Professor of Internal Medicine. “Early on, he published on all aspects of hepatology, from acute liver failure to bile flow, portal hypertension to viral hepatitis. In the process, he educated two generations of Southwestern students – and the nation's hepatologists – on all aspects of liver disease and its care with great gentleness and wisdom.”

Dr. Combes served as President of the UT Southwestern Faculty Senate from 1972 to 1974. He also served as Chairman of the Promotions and Tenure Committee for UT Southwestern Medical School from 1982 to 2007, overseeing more than 1,500 promotions to researchers and clinicians during his service.

In 2002 he was named an Ashbel Smith Professor, one of the highest honors bestowed by the UT System Board of Regents for excellence in teaching and scholarship. When he retired in 2009, friends, colleagues, family members, and former students created the Dr. Burton Combes Lecture Series in Hepatology in his honor.

Considered one of the founding fathers of modern hepatology, Dr. Combes made enormous contributions to research in autoimmune liver disease, including autoimmune hepatitis and primary biliary cirrhosis. He also had longstanding interests in liver diseases occurring during pregnancy. His research focused on ursodeoxycholic acid (UDCA) and methotrexate in the treatment of primary biliary cirrhosis. He served as principal investigator of several multicenter NIH clinical trials of UDCA and also was involved in more basic studies concerned with the immunopathogenesis of primary biliary cirrhosis.


Dr. Lee holds the Meredith Mosle Chair in Liver Disease.