Wayne Frome remembers the days when his lab equipment could analyze results for one patient a day, colleagues smoked at work, and Marshfield Clinic had animals in the building for research studies. When you've spent 55 years working for the Health System as he has, you're bound to have seen a few changes and rubbed elbows with the guys who have their names on the buildings.
“Yeah, I chauffeured (former Marshfield Clinic President and general/thoracic surgeon, healthcare-reformer, and educator) Ben Lawton," Frome recalled while reminiscing about his career from the comforts of his lab in Marshfield Medical Center's Lawton Center.
The 78-year-old Frome will retire May 5 as a Senior Research Associate in Marshfield Clinic Research Institute's Integrated Research and Development Lab.
“I like this lab work. I really do," Frome said “I didn't want to get into management and paper pushing. It's about the science and the people. That's what I'm going to miss."
The Colby native graduated from University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point with a biology degree in 1968. Being in the Vietnam War era, Frome figured he was headed for the draft. His life-long hearing issue found him classified as unfit for military service and led to a job at the fledgling Marshfield Clinic Foundation for Medical Education and Research, the precursor to today's Research Institute.
“I was Tewksbury's first full time employee who didn't get drafted or left to get married," Frome said.
Frome started his career running the initial institutional amino acid analyzer for research and clinical purposes. His precise analyses initiated support for Marshfield Clinic patients amino acid related studies such as Maple Syrup Urine disease (MSUD). He was responsible for analytically weighing all amino acid components for a particular MSUD patient's daily diet powder, requiring hours of measurements using analytical balance before a commercial mixture was available.
The process led to results for about one patient a day. Today, technology allows the lab to process results for 89 patients.
Frome also specialized in column chromatography, a complex multi-step process that required rapt attention to detail to produce the purest form of the plasma protein angiotensinogen in the world. Retired Clinic biochemist Duane Tewksbury, Ph.D., sent Frome's purified angiotensinogen to multiple research labs in the U.S. and United Kingdom, generating significant income for the Health System. Frome's work also supported Dr. Tewksbury's success in being a world renowned researcher in the field of hypertension research. Their research studies led to numerous publications focused on the multiple forms of angiotensinogen, their characterization, and interaction in normal and pregnant states.
In more recent decades, Frome switched from basic to applied research. He has diligently supported the Flu Vaccine Effectiveness studies that eventually lead to IRDL's success in obtaining the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention COVID-19 grants the past three years, as well as being a vital member of the National Farm Medicine Center's WISC/CREW study.
“The beauty of research here at Marshfield Clinic is that we have the patients," Frome said. “They come in with a particular disease and we say 'what's going on?' With DNA, research, mapping and what we've all learned, we can tell you if you're prone to a certain medical problem and all sorts of genetic data. It's a big step in helping patients."
Retirement will mean no more reporting to work and donning his lab coat, but he'll be no less busy. Gardening, his many motorcycles, fishing, continuing to raise funds for Honor Flight and working with the Spencer Kids' Group he founded will all occupy his time.