Former NHLBI Director Levy Dies
Dr. Robert Levy, eighth director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and noted lipid researcher, died of pancreatic cancer on Oct. 28. He was 63.
"He was an important figure in the treatment and prevention of heart disease," said Dr. Donald Fredrickson, former NIH director.
Dr. Claude Lenfant, director of NHLBI, described Levy as a "leader in the field of research on cholesterol, lipids, lipoproteins, atherosclerosis and heart disease. He will also be remembered for steering the institute toward a course of scientific excellence."
Levy joined the institute in 1963 as a clinical associate in the Molecular Disease Branch headed at that time by Fredrickson.
Dr. Robert Levy
"Bob conducted pioneering studies to identify the metabolic defects associated with hypercholesterolemia. He was involved in developing a typing system that clarified the clinical disorders of lipid metabolism," said Dr. Bryan Brewer, current chief of the branch.
"This typing system allowed physicians to distinguish between different phenotypes. It eventually went around the world," said Fredrickson.
In addition to his work on the classification of lipid disorders, Levy was responsible for the development and national distribution of a dietary treatment program for the management of hyperlipo-proteinemia, which was based on research conducted in the Clinical Center. In 1970, he became chief of the Lipid Metabolism Branch in the intramural program and conducted early research on the effect of cholesterol-lowering drugs on the risk of cardiovascular disease.
In 1973, Levy was named director of NHLBI's extramural Division of Heart and Vascular Diseases where he coordinated a network of Lipid Research Clinics (LRC) to carry out research on blood-lipid abnormalities.
"He was particularly interested in large-scale studies of diet and drug effects on cholesterol and he led a couple of studies that were important at the time," said Fredrickson.
Levy was project officer of the LRC-Coronary Primary Prevention Trial (CPPT), which was the first study to demonstrate conclusively that the risk of coronary heart disease can be reduced by lowering blood cholesterol. The CPPT study laid the groundwork for further research on cholesterol-lowering agents, including studies of statins, considered a major class of drugs for the treatment of high blood cholesterol.
In 1975, Levy assumed the position of NHLBI director where he strengthened clinical trial research while continuing to be active in intramural research. During his time as director he helped to implement the National High Blood Pressure Education Program (NHBPEP), which had been created in 1972. The NHBPEP became the first of several successful health education programs administered by NHLBI.
Colleagues at NHLBI remember not only Bob Levy's command of science but also his good humor and kindness. "He had a real ability to communicate with people," recalled NHLBI Nutrition Coordinator Nancy Ernst, who worked with Levy in the intramural program. "He was warm and caring with his patients. He would talk with them about their home, their conflicts...it was part of understanding how to help them comply with medical treatment," she said.
Levy left NHLBI in 1981 to become vice president and dean of Tufts University medical school. In 1983, he became vice president for health sciences and professor of medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. In 1988, he served as president of the Sandoz Research Institute until 1992, when he joined American Home Products Corp. as president of Wyeth-Ayerst Research. Since 1998, he had been senior vice president of science and technology at American Home Products.
Levy was the author or coauthor of more than 300 scientific publications. He was a member of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences and belonged to many honorary and professional societies including Phi Beta Kappa and the American College of Cardiology.
He graduated from Cornell University and Yale University School of Medicine. Levy is survived by his wife of 42 years, Ellen Feis Levy of Morristown, N.J.; a son, Dr. Andrew Levy of Israel; three daughters, Dr. Joanne Levy of Boston, Karen Gooen of Randolph, N.J., and Patricia Zuckerman of Washington; his mother, Sarah Levy of West Orange, N.J.; and seven grandchildren.
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