Scand J Work Environ Health 2004;30(2):172    pdf

Professor Emeritus Olav Axelson, MD

One of the world`s leading epidemiologists, Professor Emeritus Olav Axelson, MD, died suddenly on March 1st after a short period of illness. He was 66 years old.Olav Axelson was born in Alingsås, Sweden, on 1 May 1937. He received his medical training in Göteborg, Sweden, and worked for a number of years as a physician in internal medicine in the Skövde general hospital. In 1969 he came to the newly established Clinic of Occupational Medicine in Örebro, Sweden, where he also started his scientific career by doing the first Swedish epidemiologic study concerning the connection between radon exposure in mines and miners` lung cancer.

In meeting Professor Olli Miettinen, from McGill University, during courses in epidemiologic methodology in the 1970s, Olav Axelson found a peer and valued discussion partner, as well as the scientific tools he needed for his research studies. Epidemiologic methods in occupational and environmental medicine became the research and teaching area that occupied him for the rest of his career.

In 1977 he moved to the University Hospital in Linköping, where he became the first Professor in Occupational Medicine in Sweden. Along with his academic work, he also founded the Clinic of Occupational Medicine in Linköping in 1978. He continued his research on radon exposure, and, in 1979, published a ground-breaking study on the health effects of radon exposure in homes. During his career, he continuously studied exposure to radon, background radiation, solvents, and pesticides, but he was involved in most areas of occupational epidemiology. Theoretical epidemiology was another topic of great interest for him, and one in which he made some very important methodological contributions. Probably his greatest impact came from the often-quoted article he published with Dr Kyle Steenland, "Indirect Methods of Assessing the Effects of Tobacco Use in Occupational Studies" published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine [1988;13(1):105-18].

His was author and co-author of more than 300 articles and book chapters, and, over the years, he was the supervisor of 20 students as they worked towards doctoral degrees. Some of these graduates are from Italy, a country that was very important for him and where he was especially highly regarded, both scientifically and personally. Since 1985, he has been a fellow of the Collegium Ramazzini in Italy. He collaborated with numerous researchers in different disciplines from all over the world and was internationally renown. He was a member of many World Health Organization (WHO) working groups and contributed to eight WHO monographs. He also made large contributions as an expert in many advisory committees, as reviewer for several international journals, and as a member of critical research funding committees.

Even though he retired in 2002, Olav Axelson continued his work at the departments of occupational medicine in both Linköping and Örebro, and his death leaves a feeling of great loss and sorrow among the staff of those units. He was a brilliant scientist and a man of great integrity. His intellectual sharpness and vast knowledge, together with his great wisdom and pursuit for right and justice, has characterized his lifetime achievements.

He will be deeply missed by us, his former colleagues, friends and disciples at the Division of Occupational and Environmental Medicine in the Linköping University in Sweden. We are grateful to have had the privilege of working closely together with Olav Axelson, and we, together with his many collaborators and friends around the world, will be honored to continue sharing the fruits of his achievements.

Professor Olav Axelson is survived by his wife Gudrun, his son Torbjörn and his family in Björbo, Sweden, and his daughter Kicki and her family in Köpingsvik, Sweden. He was interred at the Gärdslösa church at Öland, Sweden, on 12 March 2004.To honor Professor Olav Axelson, a fund has been established in his name at the Linköping University, Sweden, and those interested can make donations through the following bank account: 5439-1001187 Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken, S-581 03 Linköping, Sweden, SWIFT: ESSESESS, IBAN: SE31 5000 0000 05439 1001187.