Skip Navigation Bar
 

Papers of Adrian Kantrowitz Added to the National Library of Medicine's Profiles in Science Web Site

Adrian Kantrowitz The National Library of Medicine, a constituent institute of the National Institutes of Health, announces the release of an extensive selection from the papers of surgeon Adrian Kantrowitz (1918-2008) on the Library's Profiles in Science® Web site. Best known for performing the world's second human heart transplant, Kantrowitz was also a leading surgeon-inventor who developed bioelectronic devices such as cardiac pacemakers, mechanical left heart devices, and the intraaortic balloon pump.

With this addition, the number of prominent researchers, clinicians, public health officials, and promoters of medical research whose personal and professional records are presented on Profiles has grown to twenty-nine. The site is at http://profiles.nlm.nih.gov. "Adrian Kantrowitz was a gifted innovator who repeatedly expanded the boundaries of both cardiac surgery and medical technology. His inventions, especially those providing counterpulsation to the heart, have saved thousands of lives," said Donald A. B. Lindberg, MD, director of the National Library of Medicine.

Kantrowitz (1918-2008) was born in New York City, the son of a physician. He demonstrated an early interest in both medicine and electronic devices. After earning his MD at the Long Island College of Medicine (now SUNY Downstate Medical School) in 1943, he served as a battalion surgeon during World War II. He hoped to specialize in neurosurgery after the war, but when no residencies were available in that field, he pursued training in general and thoracic surgery.

Surgery on the heart had long been limited by the need to maintain blood circulation during the operation, but by the late 1940s, thoracic surgeons had started developing corrective procedures that could be done quickly and without stopping the heart. Concurrently, they searched for ways to artificially slow or maintain the patient's circulation to extend the duration and scope of their operations. Kantrowitz joined these efforts, adding surgical research to his duties during his surgical residency at Montefiore Hospital in the Bronx. He soon developed a left heart bypass device that would allow limited open-heart surgery. Though it was never adopted for human surgery, Kantrowitz filmed an open-heart procedure performed on a dog in 1951, producing the world's first motion picture of the interior of a beating heart.

While many early cardiac surgeons focused on repairing structural problems such as damaged or defective mitral valves, Kantrowitz sought ways to aid hearts weakened by disease or narrowed coronary arteries. He reasoned that this might be done by providing an extra pulse of blood to the coronary arteries during diastole, the resting phase of the heartbeat, and, during a PHS fellowship in 1951-52, showed that such "diastolic augmentation" (also called "counterpulsation") was possible. Between 1955 and 1970, as director of cardiovascular surgery at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, Kantrowitz helped to revolutionize cardiac care, developing implantable pacemakers as well as diastolic augmentation devices, including his first left ventricular assist device (LVAD) and the intraaortic balloon pump, now used to help thousands of cardiac patients each year.

Although committed to finding mechanical support for people in heart failure, Kantrowitz knew that for patients with irreparable defects or damage, a heart transplant might provide another important option. In 1962, he and his team began animal transplant research, building on the work of Stanford surgeons Norman Shumway and Richard Lower. On December 6, 1967, only three days after Christiaan Barnard carried out the world's first human heart transplant in South Africa, Kantrowitz performed the second one, transplanting the heart of an anencephalic infant to a recipient baby with irreparable heart defects. Although the patient survived only a few hours, the operation was an important milestone in the development of heart transplantation.

In 1970, Kantrowitz left Maimonides to head a new cardiac research unit at the Sinai Hospital of Detroit, where he and his staff perfected the intraaortic balloon pump and developed a second LVAD model. In 1983, he and his wife Jean founded L.VAD Technologies, a bioelectronics development company. Kantrowitz published over 200 articles and obtained more than 20 patents during his career.

Profiles in Science features correspondence, published articles, and photographs from the Adrian Kantrowitz Papers at the National Library of Medicine. Visitors to the site can view, for example, photos of the first human heart transplant done in the United States, Kantrowitz's correspondence with other physicians about implanting the early pacemaker models, and correspondence with electrical engineers who helped fabricate prototypes of his pacemakers and other cardiac assist devices.


Located in Bethesda, Maryland, the National Library of Medicine is the world's largest library of the health sciences. For more information, visit the Web site at http://www.nlm.nih.gov/.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) -- The Nation's Medical Research Agency -- includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U. S. Department of Health and Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit http://www.nih.gov/.

###