Bernard Lown (1921 – ) American cardiologist, activist and inventor.
- The original developer of the DC defibrillator and the cardioverter (1961)
- Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War
- Despite much opposition, instituted early mobilisation post coronary thrombosis (the ‘armchair‘ treatment), significantly reducing hospital length of stay and reducing early mortality by 2/3.
- Advocated the use of digitalis (rather than digitoxin) and demonstrated the critical role of potassium reducing risk of toxicity (a major issue at the time); and the use of IV lidocaine (lignocaine) to reduce post-infarct arrhythmias.
- Born 7 June 1921 Utena, Lithuania
- Emigrated to the United States at the age of 13
- Graduated summa cum laude, University of Maine
- 1945 – MD, Johns Hopkins University
- Cardiology fellowship under Samuel Albert Levine at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, Boston (Brigham and Women’s Hospital)
- Professor of Cardiology Emeritus at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health
Key Medical Attributions:
Nobel Peace Prize
- 1961 – Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) to address the mounting threat of nuclear war between the USSR and the USA. Drafted research articles about the medical consequences of a ten megaton nuclear attack on the city of Boston – ‘The Medical Consequences of Thermonuclear War‘
- 1980 – International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War (IPPNW) in the face of the mounting nuclear threat that followed USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan and the election of Ronald Reagan. Working closely with Soviet cardiologist Dr. Evgeni Chazov (later to become later USSR Minister Of Health) the movement grew exponentially [IPPNW Milestones]
- 1985 – Lown accepted the Nobel Peace Prize on behalf of the IPPNW
DC Defibrillator and cardioversion
- 1956 – Paul Zoll performed cardiac resuscitation using alternating current (AC) electric to manage VF/VT during heart surgery, and later in the event of sudden cardiac arrest [N Engl J Med 1956; 254:727-732]
- 1959 – In animal experiments, Lown working with Baruch Berkowitz (of the American Optical Company) found that AC caused burns to skeletal and heart muscle; could induce atrial and ventricular fibrillation and was potentially lethal.
- 1961 – Lown found that a specific direct current (DC) waveform consistently reversed VF, restoring a normal heart beat without injuring heart or skeletal muscle. He noted that the incidence of VF was 10x more frequent after AC than DC cardioversion. Additionally he isolated the ‘vulnerable period’ immediately following the T wave during ventricular depolarization when a DC shock could induce VF.
- 1961 – Lown’s machine was the first to be used successfully on a humans at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital. [JAMA 1962;182(November):548—55.]
- 1962 – Lown then developed a method of timed DC discharge he called ‘Cardioversion‘ to provide an a safe and effective electrical discharge outwith the heart’s brief 0.03s ‘vulnerable period‘.
- Levine SA, Lown B. The “chair” treatment of acute thrombosis. Trans Assoc Am Physicians. 1951;64:316-27. [PMID 14884265]
- Levine SA, Lown B. “Armchair” treatment of acute coronary thrombosis. J Am Med Assoc. 1952 Apr 19;148(16):1365-9. [PMID 14907380]
- Lown B, Ganong WF, Levine SA. The syndrome of short P-R interval, normal QRS complex and paroxysmal rapid heart action. Circulation. 1952 May;5(5):693-706. [PMID 14926053]
- Levine HD, Vazifdar JP, Lown B, Merrill JP. Tent-shaped T waves of normal amplitude in potassium intoxication. [PMID 14902682]
- Lown B, Levine SA. Current concepts in digitalis therapy. N Engl J Med. 1954 May 13;250(19):819-32 [PMID 13165905]
- Lown B, Lown B, Neuman J, Amarasingham B, Berkovits BV. Comparison of alternating current with direct current electroshock across the closed chest. Am J Cardiol. 1962 Aug;10:223-33. [PMID 14466975]
- Lown B. Defibrillation and cardioversion. Cardiovasc Res. 2002 Aug 1;55(2):220-4. [PMID 12123757]
- Lown B, Amarasingham R, Neuman J. New method for terminating cardiac arrhythmias. Use of synchronized capacitor discharge. JAMA. 1962 Nov 3;182:548-55. [PMID 13931298]
- Lown B, Perloth MG, Kaidbey S, Abe T, Harken DE. “Cardioversion” of atrial fibrillation. A report on the treatment of 65 episodes in 50 patients. [PMID 13931297]
- Lown B. The Lost Art of Healing: Practicing Compassion in Medicine. Houghton Mifflin. 1996
- Lown B. Practicing the art while mastering the science. Harbinger Medical Press. 2000
- Lown B. Prescription for Survival: A Doctor’s Journey to End Nuclear Madness. Berrett-Koehler. 2008
- Butterfield F. Nobel Peace Prize Given to Doctors Opposed to War. NY Times Oct 12 1985.
- Dr. Bernard Lown: A Documentary (Part I) (Part II). Lown Foundation
- Eisenberg M. Bernard Lown and defibrillation. Resuscitation 2006;69, 171—173
- Eisenberg M. Life in the Balance: Emergency Medicine and the Quest to Reverse Sudden Death. Oxford University Press. 1997
- Dr. Bernard Lown. Dr. Bernard Lown’s Personal Blog
- Gordon R. A Heart Doctor With an Extra Big Heart. Harvard University Gazette. Feb 11 1999.
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