McCracken named Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics

By Patrick Wascovich

Dr. George H. McCracken Jr.
Dr. George H. McCracken Jr.

Dr. George H. McCracken Jr., a pioneer on the effective delivery of antibiotics to infants and young children with infectious diseases, has been named Professor Emeritus of Pediatrics after a half-century career at UT Southwestern Medical Center.

Dr. McCracken, along with UT Southwestern colleagues and others, conducted some of the first trials to investigate the safety and efficacy of antibiotics in infants and young children. His landmark studies of antimicrobial therapy of bacterial meningitis in children continue to guide today’s clinical practices worldwide. Dr. McCracken also was instrumental in identifying the potential benefits of steroid administration for treatment of bacterial meningitis, and his investigations demonstrated improved outcome protective effect of steroids on the hearing of children with meningitis.

“Dr. McCracken is a distinguished member of the UT Southwestern faculty who has served the Institution for 50 years has left a remarkable record of contributions,” Dr. Daniel K. Podolsky, President of UT Southwestern, wrote in his recommendation letter to the UT System. “He has spent 41 years as a Professor of Pediatrics and served as the Division Director of Pediatric Infectious Disease for 17 of those years. He has trained generations of pediatric infectious disease specialists and has had an impact on pediatricians around the world.”

Dr. McCracken, who joined the UT Southwestern faculty in 1968 after arriving on campus as a chief resident in 1965, focused considerable effort in regard to the epidemiology and microbiology of meningitis and septicemia in children of all ages, most particularly in newborns. But his body of published work, now with more than 500 peer-reviewed papers, touched upon nearly every major pathogen causing serious infections in infants and children.

“Looking back on my career I guess I did all three rungs of the mission,” Dr. McCracken said. “But what I got the most joy from was teaching. We had, and continue to have, a very large fellowship training program. Being able to train those young physicians who then went out and became highly successful in their careers is very satisfying.”

Dr. McCracken directed the Pediatric Infectious Disease Fellowship Program from 1965 to 2010, with more than 120 physicians from 24 countries completing their training under his tutelage.

Dr. Julio Pérez Fontán, Chairman of Pediatrics, said Dr. McCracken’s accomplishments resonate throughout the Medical Center’s three-part mission.

“He is the consummate academic physician who has achieved excellence in patient care, teaching, research, and leadership of national and international organizations and societies,” Dr. Pérez Fontán said. “Dr. McCracken is a legendary figure in the fields of pediatrics, infectious diseases, pediatric infectious diseases, epidemiology, microbiology, and pharmacology. He has been an internationally recognized expert and one of only a small distinguished group of individuals to have been recognized by so many prestigious institutions and international organizations.”

Born and raised in Scarsdale, New York, Dr. McCracken was the son of a very successful college football coach. But knee injuries suffered in his sophomore and senior years ended his playing days while piquing a new interest.

“I had cartilage surgery on both knees and was impressed by the total medical process,” Dr. McCracken said. “It wasn’t like it is today, where they just snip the cartilage. So today I have long scars, but I still bike daily to stay in shape.”

He graduated from Williams College before earning his M.D. from Cornell University Medical College in New York City in 1962. He originally planned to go into internal medicine, but a professor, Dr. Henry Shinefield, cultivated his research interest by providing laboratory space and helping to steer him toward pediatrics.

Dr. McCracken’s reputation and body of research quickly grew as he began to address an area that was largely considered “therapeutic orphans” – infants and young children in whom dosages, safety, and effectiveness of antimicrobial agents were unexplored.

“In those days very few medications came with pediatric dosages,” he said. “Doctors had to rely on armchair reasoning; pare the antibiotic dosage down from what would be given in an adult, which of course was totally wrong.

“There was really nothing out there to go from. Treating a 14-year-old patient was not a real departure from an adult, but a 14-week-old? That was.”

In 2004, pediatric researchers at UT Southwestern led by Dr. McCracken received a $2 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to establish a pharmacology research center at Children’s Medical Center Dallas to study how to best treat infants and children with infections. By then, Dr. McCracken also served as Chief of Infectious Diseases at Children’s.

The NIH-funded Pediatric Pharmacology Research Units Network, directed by Dr. McCracken and one of 13 centers in the United States at the time, provided researchers with the support needed to study drug therapies in infants and children. Investigators evaluated the safety, tolerability, dosing schedules, and effectiveness of new and existing drugs in pediatric patients. The center also helped researchers more easily collaborate with their colleagues at the network’s other centers, said Dr. McCracken.

“It broadened our work in that it was a large collaborative effort,” he said. “We could work with a larger population base. In all, we have studied more than 35 antibiotics in various formulations and determined how they worked in infants and children.”

Dr. McCracken co-founded the Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal in 1982 and, along with Dr. John Nelson, served as Editor-in-Chief for 34 years before stepping down last year. His numerous honors and the years awarded include the Maxwell Finland Award from the Infectious Diseases Society of America (2012); the Sumner J. Yaffe Lifetime Achievement Award in Pediatric Pharmacology and Therapeutics from the Pediatric Pharmacy Advocacy Group (2005); the Award for Lifetime Contribution to Education in Infectious Disease from the American Academy of Pediatrics (2004); the Maxwell Finland Award from the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (2004); the Distinguished Physician Award for Lifetime Achievements in Research and Training in Pediatric Infectious Diseases from the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society (2001); the Hoechst-Roussel Award for Outstanding Accomplishments in Antimicrobial Chemotherapy from the American Society for Microbiology991); and the Bristol Award for Distinguished Achievements in Infectious Diseases from the Infectious Diseases Society of America990).

Dr. McCracken and Leslie, his wife of 53 years, have two grown daughters, Kelly and Megan, two sons-in-law, Mike Donofrio and Sam Adams; and three grandchildren.

Dr. Pérez Fontán holds the Robert L. Moore Chair in Pediatrics.

Dr. Podolsky holds the Philip O’Bryan Montgomery, Jr., M.D. Distinguished Presidential Chair in Academic Administration, and the Doris and Bryan Wildenthal Distinguished Chair in Medical Science.