Obituary: Burton E. Sobel, MD, former director of Cardiovascular Division, 75

Sobel (Credit: University of Vermont)

Burton E. Sobel, MD, internationally known leader in cardiovascular medicine, prolific scientist and former longtime director of the Cardiovascular Division at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, died Friday, May 3, 2013, at his home in Vermont, after a long illness. He was 75.

Sobel served as chief of cardiology at Washington University and at Barnes Hospital from 1974 until 1994. He then moved to the University of Vermont, where he was a University Distinguished Professor of Medicine and a professor of biochemistry as well as founder and first director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of Vermont.

Sobel’s research was far-reaching and included major contributions to the treatment of heart attacks, including best methods for dissolving blood clots, and the understanding of cardiovascular disease in the context of Type 2 diabetes and insulin resistance.

He pioneered the development of tissue plasminogen activators (tPA), among the most commonly used clot-busting drugs. Sobel’s early work in this area laid the foundation for his leadership roles in multicenter clinical trials that showed the effectiveness of drugs, including tPA, heparin and aspirin, in dissolving clots and reducing deaths due to heart attacks and coronary artery disease.

More recently, Sobel was a leader in the evolving understanding of the relationship between diabetes and heart disease.

“Dr. Sobel was the consummate physician scientist who translated basic science concepts regarding clot-dissolving agents into clinical trials that have saved the lives of countless patients,” said Douglas L. Mann, MD, the Tobias and Hortense Lewin Professor of Medicine and current chief of the Cardiovascular Division. “He also was responsible for putting Washington University’s Cardiovascular Division on the map. His academic legacy lives on here through the innumerable residents, fellows and faculty that he trained and supported.”

Sobel earned his medical degree from Harvard Medical School in 1962. After an internship and residency at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston, he continued his cardiology training at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md. During this period, he also served in the U.S. Public Health Service. In 1968, he joined the faculty of University of California, San Diego.

He came to Washington University in 1973 as an associate professor of medicine and director of the Cardiovascular Division at the School of Medicine and at Barnes and Wohl Hospitals. He was named the Tobias and Hortense Lewin Distinguished Professor in Cardiovascular Disease in 1985. After his tenure in St. Louis, Sobel joined the faculty of the University of Vermont as chair of the Department of Medicine in 1994.

A prolific academic, Sobel published more than 900 peer-reviewed articles, invited reviews, editorials and book chapters. He also held positions on the editorial boards of many high-profile medical journals focused on cardiology, including editor of Circulation, associate editor of The Journal of Clinical Investigation, and board member of Annals of Internal Medicine and The American Journal of Cardiology. As editor of Circulation, he is credited with innovations that raised the journal’s profile and shaped the field of cardiology and its current directions.

He received numerous honors and awards over his long career, including the Eugene H. Drake Memorial Award from the American Heart Association and a Distinguished Scientist Award from the American College of Cardiology. In 2010, he received the Distinguished Scientist Award from the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine. The same organization also continues to honor him with the named Burton E. Sobel Annual Young Investigator Award.

Sobel was a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American College of Cardiology, the American College of Physicians, and The Royal Society of Medicine, UK, among others.

Sobel is survived by his wife of 55 years, Susan; his children, Jonathan and Elizabeth; and a granddaughter.

A funeral service was held May 8 in South Burlington, Vt.