Louis Cohen, SB’48, MD’53, professor emeritus, distinguished member of the cardiology faculty, talented clinician, respected scientist and popular teacher, passed away, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, on Jan. 10. He was 89 years old.
In his six-decade medical career, Cohen made significant contributions to basic and clinical research, with an emphasis on atherosclerosis, blood lipids, cholesterol, arrhythmias and the diagnosis of acute coronary syndromes. He was author or co-author of more than 70 research publications, plus a series of reports on the Multiple Risk Factor Intervention Trial (MR FIT). In the mid-1980’s, Cohen and colleagues did important work on the physical chemistry of compounds such as verapamil, now used to treat cardiac problems such as hypertension and chest pain. He also chaired the committee that designed the medical center’s first coronary care unit.
Cohen helped develop two compounds for the treatment of Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD), one of which is still in clinical use. In 1972, he and colleagues showed that diethylstilbestrol (DES) could cause a considerable reduction in the serum enzymes, lactate dehydrogenase and creatinine phosphokinase, which are characteristically elevated in DMD. The reduction was reversible when the drug was discontinued and reproducible when restarted.
He also spent two years, 1963-65, as a visiting scientist studying lipoprotein polymorphism and the chemistry of the HDL apoprotein at the University of Wisconsin with the late Oliver Smithies. In 2007, Smithies received the Nobel Prize for his team’s work on characterizing the structure of HDL cholesterol and its polymorphisms.
Dr. Cohen, however, may have been best known at UChicago Medicine for his devotion to students and patients. “My father treated his patients with kindness, and took time to listen and investigate the cause of their symptoms,” said his daughter, Ruth Kubicek. “He wasn’t concerned with medicating the problem or treating the symptom. He wanted to know the source, and the cause. He was a preventionist before prevention became popular.”
The medical students valued those skills. They chose him for the Excellence in Clinical Teaching Award every year from 1963 to 1969 and elected him as president of the medical alumni association in 1980, and again in 1992, followed by the Gold Key Award from the Biological Sciences Division in 1996. He also received multiple awards from the Chicago chapter of the American Heart Association and served as its president from 1992-1994.
Born December 5, 1928, in Chicago, Cohen spent most of his career at the University of Chicago. In 1948, at the age of 19, he graduated from the College, with honors. Emmett Bay, MD, the section chief of cardiology at that time, took an interest in Cohen as a student and recruited him as a research associate in his lipid and coagulation laboratory.
In 1949, Cohen enrolled in the University of Chicago’s Medical School. He graduated with honors in 1953, followed by internship, residency in medicine, a fellowship in cardiovascular diseases and appointment as an instructor in medicine in 1959, all at the University of Chicago.
His medical training was temporarily interrupted by the U.S. Navy Medical Corps. He was called up for active duty during the early 1960s. This included working with Care-Medico during the Algerian civil war, for which he received a Presidential Citation from John F. Kennedy for his services.
Back in Chicago, Cohen rose through the ranks to become an assistant professor in 1961, associate professor in 1968 and professor in 1975. In 2007, he received the Distinguished Service Award from the Department of Medicine for his lifetime of service. He took emeritus status in 2011.
Medical students appreciated Cohen approach to teaching. He was especially popular for the electrocardiogram course he co-taught with colleague, Rory Childers, MD, and for developing the preclinical course on clinical pathophysiology and therapeutics.
He also participated in multiple educational programs and served as a member or chairperson of more than 50 administrative and planning committees, including a year as president of the medical alumni association, 1980-81. He mentored research trainees ranging from high school students through college and medical school, as well as graduate and fellowship students. And he is the co-holder of three patents: an infusion device, a method of preventing or reducing the size of scars, and a novel treatment for multiple sclerosis.
Throughout his career, Cohen served as a model caring physician and a diligent scientist. His enthusiasm for scientific discovery combined with his passion for the details of each patient’s life made him a role model for colleagues as well as generations of young physicians.
A funeral service was held January 12 at the Jewish Funeral Home in Skokie, IL, followed by a grave-side service. Dr. Cohen is survived by his daughter Ruth; two sons, Frederick and Curtis; eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.