May 7th, 2013

Burton Sobel, Towering Cardiologist, Dead at 75

Burton Sobel, a towering scientist and cardiologist, died at home on May 3 at the age of 75. Sobel had been treated in the past for prostate cancer and had suffered a recurrence, but it is not known if this was the immediate cause of his death.

Sobel was among the most powerful and influential cardiologists in the 1980s when he played a key early role in the development of fibrinolysis and the first major biotechnology product, TPA. From his perch as the chief of cardiology at Washington University in Saint Louis and as the editor of Circulation, Sobel was a member of a small group of cardiologists who set the agenda for cardiology and moved the field forward. The group, which also included James Willerson, Myron Weisfeldt, and Eugene Braunwald, was “innovative” and “visionary,” said Allan Jaffe, who worked closely with Sobel at Washington University for many years. “It was a very exciting time in cardiology,” he said.

Sobel’s research exploring the biochemistry of fibrinolytic agents, fatty acids, diabetes, and insulin resistance “was way ahead of his time” and “seminal,” said Jaffe. Sobel was also “tremendously innovative” as the editor of Circulation, helping propel it into the modern era of rapid review and publication.

One highlight of this period was Sobel’s partnership with Désiré Collen, a Belgian scientist. After Collen purified TPA and accumulated enough of the protein for research purposes, it was Sobel who then worked out how best to test the protein, at first in animals and then in humans.

Sobel was an undergraduate at Cornell University and completed medical school  at Harvard. Following an internship and residency at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, he did his cardiology fellowship at the NHLBI.

In the mid-1990s, following a congressional investigation which revealed that Sobel had received options in Genentech stock, Sobel’s visibility and influence waned, though he remained active as a researcher and educator. He left St. Louis and in 1994 became the chairman of the department of medicine at the University of Vermont. He created the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of Vermont.

Sobel served on the board of directors of  Arca Biopharma. Said Michael Bristow, president and CEO of the company:

“Burt was recognized as one of the great academic physicians of our time. He did groundbreaking work in several fields of cardiovascular medicine including blood coagulation, which led to major advances in the treatment of heart attacks and other thromboembolic diseases, as well as seminal work on myocardial function and biochemistry in response to hemodynamic stress. Burt will be deeply missed by his family, friends, colleagues, and the many patients whose lives were greatly improved by his contributions to cardiovascular medicine.”

Sobel is survived by his wife Susan, to whom he was married for 55 years, his children Jonathan and Elizabeth, and his granddaughter Skye.


One Response to “Burton Sobel, Towering Cardiologist, Dead at 75”

  1. I am very sorry to hear this; Burt was indeed a visionary and innovative cardiovascular scientist. he will certainly be missed. May he rest in peace. my heartfelt Condolences to his family