University of Wisconsin
School of Medicine and Public Health

History of Cardiovascular Medicine at UW


Our aspirations and goals are based on a firm record of achievement. The beginnings of an organized Cardiovascular Medicine Division at University of Wisconsin Madison date back to 1950, when a construction grant was awarded by the recently formed National Heart Institute to build a multidisciplinary program with representation from basic and clinical science departments, including medicine, pediatrics, anesthesia, radiology, biochemistry, pharmacology and surgery. The mission of the Cardiovascular Research Laboratory still rings true today: to bring together biological scientists trained in a variety of disciplines so they might stimulate each other to greater creativity and productivity, and to provide an integrated, multi-departmental teaching, research and training program.

In 1948, our first attempts at cardiac catheterization examined the coronary arteries using nonselective aortic root injections. In 1952, the first mitral valve disease patient underwent cardiac catheterization by George Rowe, and in 1962, the first selective coronary arteriograms were performed. The development of cardiac surgery kept pace, with the first ligation of a patent ductus arteriosus in 1948 and the performance of brief off-pump open heart surgery assisted by hypothermia and vena caval ligation in the early 1950s by William Young. The first surgery with cardiopulmonary bypass was performed in 1957, followed by the development of the UW hinged leaflet valve prosthesis in 1963 and the first use of human homograft aortic valves in 1966. The successful outcome of cardiac surgical procedures was aided by the discovery of coumadin in spoiled sweet clover by the UW School of Agriculture, and by refinements in the pump design used for cardiopulmonary bypass machines.

A University of Wisconsin mechanical engineering student, Charles A. Lindbergh, spent his career as a biomedical engineer developing roller pumps for renal dialysis and cardiopulmonary bypass equipment after his historic solo flight over the Atlantic in 1927. He also co-authored a book with Alexis Carrel, a French surgeon and 1912 Nobel Laureate, entitled 'The Culture of Organs,' published in 1938.

UW has long been a leader in cardiac transplantation, building on successes in tissue typing and organ preservation. The cardiac transplant program, established in 1973, is one of the oldest, largest (more than 500 operations in the first 30 years) and most successful programs in the country.

Prevention has always been an important part of UW Cardiovascular Medicine, beginning in the 1960s with exercise tolerance testing, cardiac rehabilitation and participation in multicenter studies. Among the most recent developments is the creation of a comprehensive vascular disease program. This prompted the renaming of the division to Cardiovascular Medicine to better reflect our current and future scope of practice.

UW Cardiovascular Medicine faculty at the cutting-edge...

  • In the 1960s, Bruno Balke, a founding father of cardiac rehabilitation, was the first to chart the relationship between oxygen consumption, exercise and cardiovascular health.
  • Invention of the Gott-Daggett artificial heart valve (1963).
  • Invention of digital subtraction angiography (Charles Mistretta, 1973), magnetic resonance imaging (Paul Moran, 1985) and 3-D magnetic resonance digital subtraction angiography (Charles Mistretta, Thomas Grist, and John Cameron).
  • Start of the nation's first academic preventive cardiology program (Peter Hanson, 1974).
  • Discovery that aspirin effectively reduced blood clot formation in coronary arteries, leading to the widespread use of 'an aspirin a day' for preventing heart disease (John Folts, 1973).
  • Invention of the 'UW solution,' an organ-preserving fluid, resulting in improved cardiac and other organ transplantation results (Folkert Belzer and James Southard, 1987).
  • Demonstration of calcium channel's key role in early after depolarizations, and its link to long Q-T syndrome and potentially life-threatening arrhythmias (Craig January, 1995).
  • Identification of the HERG gene and its encoding of the IKr channel (Gail Robertson and Barry Ganetzky, 1995).
  • Home of an international cardiovascular clinical trials unit, the Statistical Data Analysis Center, that has run numerous trials including PRAISE I and II, EXCITE, REACH, MERIT, WIZARD, COPERNICUS and others.
  • Invention of the clinical trial stopping model most frequently used by the pharmaceutical industry (David DeMets).