JLR co-editor Witztum steps down

Joseph Witztum DAVID AHNTHOLZ

Joseph L. Witztum has stepped down as co-editor-in-chief of the Journal of Lipid Research. A distinguished professor in the Department of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego, Witztum joined the JLR editorial board leadership as deputy editor in 2003. In 2008 he was named co-editor-in-chief alongside Edward A. Dennis

JLR Associate Editor  William L. Smith of the University of Michigan was named Witztum's replacement as co-editor-in-chief. His term began Jan. 1.

Witztum has worked in the field of lipoprotein metabolism for more than 40 years, much of that time with the late Daniel Steinberg, who invited him to join the faculty at UCSD in 1979. The two worked on deciphering how oxidized, low-density lipoproteins and the body’s immune system played roles in atherogenesis. Steinberg and Witztum led the clinical trial unit at UCSD as one of the units of the Coronary Primary Prevention Trial. The 10-year study, which ended in 1984, was the first large, randomized, double-blind study to show a statistically significant decrease in heart disease as a result of cholesterol-lowering drug therapy. Witztum and Steinberg’s results sent ripples through the medical community and significantly changed how physicians treated patients’ high cholesterol levels.

According to Dennis, “Joe is one of the foremost researchers on lipoprotein metabolism and especially the role of oxidized LDL in the pathogenesis of atherosclerosis, and his knowledge and wisdom in this area have been invaluable for the JLR. It has been a wonderful period of working closely with such a creative and devoted scientist.”

Throughout his time at the journal, Witztum was recognized for his detailed reviews of submitted work. He evaluated every submitted manuscript to determine if it met the journal’s stringent submission guidelines and took extra time to consult with one or more associate editors about papers that went to peer review. If he didn’t feel a manuscript met the journal’s guidelines or felt it was more suitable for publication elsewhere, Witztum would write a detailed letter to the authors explaining his decision. He made it a priority to respond to authors quickly, maintaining that if he were submitting a manuscript to the JLR he would want to be shown similar respect.

The journal staff regularly received replies from authors who had benefited from Witztum’s decision emails. They were often effusive in their praise of Witztum, thanking him for the care he took with his letters. A recent email reads, “Thank you very much for taking the time to write such a considered and informative decision letter. It has been very much appreciated by the authors and a pleasant change from the standard rejection letter issued by many journals.”

Dennis says he and Witztum oversaw significant milestones during their time together at the journal.

“From the beginning we worked closely together with a shared goal of continuing and expanding on the almost fifty-year tradition of JLR of being the leading journal in lipid metabolism. Over the first five years, we doubled the number of submissions and brought the acceptance rate to about 30 percent. We expanded the Thematic Review Series and, for our fiftieth anniversary, published a special golden issue with 75 reviews covering the latest in all of lipid metabolism. We also initiated the JLR Lectureship at selected specialized lipid meetings each year.”

Witztum graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in chemistry from Vanderbilt University in 1965 and received his medical degree at Washington University at St. Louis in 1969. An internship and residency in internal medicine at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City and a position as chief medical officer at Winnebago Indian Hospital on a Native American reservation in Nebraska followed. He later took a fellowship in endocrinology and metabolism and then a faculty position in the Department of Medicine at Washington University before being recruited to UCSD in 1979. Witztum has an active research lab at UCSD and is an internist, continuing to see patients in a lipids clinic.

For his many contributions to the journal, Witztum was honored at a special dinner in New York in October. He won’t be cutting his ties to the journal completely, however. As of Jan. 1, 2016, he will become an associate editor at the JLR.


Mary L. Chang Mary L. Chang is publications manager for ASBMB.