History of the U-M Cardiovascular Center
Michigan's Century of Cardiovascular Excellence
As medical historian Joel Howell has noted, the most significant feature of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Michigan over the past century is the extent to which it exceeded its boundaries, influencing cardiovascular medicine everywhere.
In the early 1900s, when serious study of the heart was just beginning, U-M had on its faculty individuals who would become decisive players in the new field - individuals who would create ripples of influence that each of us benefits from in terms of cardiovascular health.
Key Contributors to Our Success
Albion Walter Hewlett, a member of U-M's internal medicine faculty and one of the world's first physiologic cardiologists, advocated as early as 1909 the value of the electrocardiogram as a diagnostic tool.
Frank Wilson, a world-renowned cardiologist at Michigan, played a major role in the 1940s in transforming clinical cardiology by expanding the value of the electrocardiogram for something other than arrhythmias and especially for diagnosis of coronary artery disease. The designation of "V" for vector to describe the leads that are attached to the body during an EKG derived from Wilson's research.
In July 1950, an entire issue of the magazine Circulation was dedicated to Dr. Wilson on his 60th birthday. In the magazine a colleague wrote, "Many of us believe that Dr. Wilson is the greatest exponent of the rational understanding of the electrocardiogram. His theoretical development of the subject is properly considered as the finest single intellectual achievement of modern times in the entire cardiovascular field." It is remarkable that even to this very day we use the same electrocardiographic leads to diagnose heart attacks and heart circulation insufficiencies.
In the 1950s Ann Arbor engineer Dick Sarns, working with U-M heart surgeon Herbert Sloan and others at the University of Michigan, developed what is today's most noted heart lung machine, the machine used in the first human heart transplant in Cape Town, South Africa. This pioneering work was critical to the practical development of a machine that temporarily substitutes for a patient's own heart and lungs during complex heart, vessel or brain surgery.
Benedict Lucchesi, one of the world's premier cardiovascular pharmacologists, whose research at Michigan spanned both clinical and basic science investigations for 40 years, was the first to understand, in 1961, that the newly discovered drug propranolol, a beta blocker used to fight hypertension, could be used to treat heart arrhythmias. Even today this class of drugs continues to substantially reduce mortality from heart attack, heart rhythm disturbances, and heart failure.
In the 1970s cardiologist Bertram Pitt, one of the best-known designers of large-scale clinical trials in cardiovascular medicine, and Dr. Lucchesi jointly developed the first nitroglycerin patch to be approved by the Food and Drug Administration.
Stevo Julius, one of the early pioneers in the field of hypertension, has long been interested in not only treating hypertension but also in preventing its development in the first place. His work proved for the first time that treating pre-hypertensive patients -- who number more than 25 million in the U.S. alone -- with a new class of blood pressure-lowering medications can prevent the subsequent development of hypertension. This work, derived from his University of Michigan-based research program, is revolutionary to the field and is likely to have an extraordinary impact on public health.
Leaders in Excellence
Cardiovascular physicians and scientists at the University of Michigan, over the entire past century, have often played key leadership roles in creating significant advances in cardiovascular medicine, cardiovascular surgery, cardiovascular drugs and technologies. The downward trend in morbidity and mortality related to heart and vascular diseases would not have happened without the many significant contributions from University of Michigan cardiovascular physicians and scientists.
Michigan's is a storied program; its track record of cardiovascular research over more than 100 years is one of many triumphant moments in the history of cardiovascular medicine. But there is much that remains to be done.
The CVC Today
This solid history of excellence in cardiovascular care has guided the growth of the U-M Cardiovascular Center, which continues to be a leader in the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease. Since opening its doors in 2007, our state-of-the-art facility serves as a central location for coordinated, top-quality clinical care, research and teaching activities, focusing on the entire spectrum of cardiovascular disease. Here, U-M is raising the bar for clinical care, and the next generation of history-making leaders.