July 25, 2016: Dr. Raymond E. Ryckman, a long-time member of the faculty at Loma Linda University (LLU) and internationally-respected scientist, died last week (July 18) at 99 years of age. He was considered the world’s authority on the ecology of Triatomines and Chagas’ disease from which at least 15 million people suffer around the world.
Triatoma are widely known as “Kissing Bugs” or “Assassin Bugs” that draw blood from sleeping people at night and carry Chagas’ disease. According to the World Health Organization, Ryckman was the foremost entomologist studying the cause and spread of Chagas’ disease in the Americas. His work has shown that insecticide prevention is the only suitable therapeutic agent for the control of the disease.
With a top-secret government clearance, Ryckman conducted original research under U.S. Army grants at what is today the School of Public Health at LLU to determine plague vector controls in the 1950s. His research discovered how to protect troops in plague-infested parts of the world. It resulted in the Army’s flea control program and played a significant role in the prevention of plague outbreaks during the Vietnam War.
Ryckman was reared on a farm in Wisconsin. He was fascinated by insects at an early age. He attended the Adventist secondary school in Iowa, and was drafted into the Army when he was 24. He served four years as a hospital orderly at the Presidio in San Francisco. He attended San Francisco City College and then the University of California across the bay in Berkeley, where he was a student of Dr. Robert L. Usinger, known as the greatest American expert on blood-sucking bugs in the field of medical entomology. He earned a college degree in zoology in 1950, completed a Master’s with a thesis on Cimicidae (“bed bugs”) in 1957 and a PhD in 1960, all under Usinger’s mentoring.
Ryckman authored or co-authored 120 scientific publications during his lifetime, almost all of these before the era of computers and Internet submissions. He credited his wife with carefully and patiently reviewing and editing his manuscripts. His papers are a rich library of information about every aspect of Triatomine and mammalian hosts of T. cruzi.
In retirement, Ryckman continued his work, providing consultation, advice, and even an occasional guided field trip for scientists and public health professionals from the Americas, who still today appreciate the importance of his contributions.
In addition to the invaluable entomological collections that he established, Ryckman’s collection of Chagas’ disease references is perhaps the greatest single reference database ever stablished for an arthropod-born disease, certainly in the pre-computer age. In a series of volumes published in the Bulletin of the Society of Vector Ecologists from 1981 to 1987 (vols. 6, 9, and 12), with the assistance of several students, he compiled over 23,000 references in Spanish, French, Portuguese and English, on Chagas’ disease, covering the biology, pathology, ecology, and entomology. This database has now been digitized and is in the process of being prepared for online access.
In 1972, Ryckman’s fellow scientists named a rare species in his honor: Triatoma ryckmani. In 2007, he received the Distinguished Achievement Award from the Society for Vector Ecology by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. In 2008, he received the University Distinguished Service Award, the highest honor awarded by LLU.
Ryckman is survived by his wife, Evelyn, his three children, Joseph, Albert, and Ruby, and a number of grandchildren and great grandchildren. He will be buried tomorrow (July 26) in Montecito Memorial Park, Colton, California.
Adventist Today thanks the family for providing information about Ryckman’s life and alerting us to this story. The featured photo with this story shows Ryckman with an associate working a laboratory at LLU. As best can be determined it is from the 1960s.