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Brian F. Hoffman, M.D., 1925-2013

Brian F. Hoffman, M.D.: Revolutionized the Study of Cardiac Arrhythmias

Brian F. HoffmanBrian F. Hoffman, M.D., a father of modern cardiac electrophysiology and the Hosack Professor Emeritus of Pharmacology at Columbia University, died Feb. 11, 2013, at age 87. Dr. Hoffman chaired the Department of Pharmacology at Columbia's College of Physicians and Surgeons (P&S) from 1963 until 1995. After retiring from Columbia in 1999, he divided his time between homes in Key Biscayne, Fla., and Millbrook, N.Y.

Dr. Hoffman is considered a seminal figure in the growth and development of cardiac electrophysiology in both basic and clinical science realms. Experiments in his lab led to the creation of a new field of invasive cardiac electrophysiology. He revolutionized the study of cardiac arrhythmias by improving the understanding of arrhythmias and investigating the mechanisms of cardiac drugs. Dr. Hoffman and his colleagues identified the cellular electrophysiologic basis for the actions of digitalis, catecholamine, and antiarrhythmic drugs.

Dr. Hoffman was one of the first to conduct systematic studies on the electrophysiology and pharmacology of human cardiac tissues removed during cardiac surgical procedures, work that demonstrated the types of abnormalities that result from congenital and acquired cardiac disease and the responses of cardiac cells to pharmacological agents. His research advanced the abilities of physicians to diagnose and interpret cardiac arrhythmias and conduction disturbances and to understand the actions of antiarrhythmic drugs.

The American Heart Association recognized Dr. Hoffman with several honors, including its Distinguished Achievement Award and Research Achievement Award. In recognizing the impact of his research, the American Heart Association said: "Thousands of patients around the world have benefited from his research. Few [researchers] have made such diverse and important contributions to the well-being of mankind." He also was honored by a Distinguished Achievement Award from the American College of Physicians, a Distinguished Service Award from the World Congress of Cardiology, and a Distinguished Scientist Award from the American College of Cardiology. In 2000 he received the P&S Distinguished Service Award, the Columbia medical school's highest honor, in recognition of his leadership in cardiovascular pharmacology research and for initiating a broad program of interdisciplinary studies in cardiovascular pharmacology and physiology by enlisting colleagues in physiology, pathology, medicine, surgery, and pediatrics. Columbia also honored him in 1986 with the Stevens Triennial Prize, given for meritorious original research. In 1957 he was a John Simon Guggenheim Foundation Fellow at the University of Brazil Institute of Biophysics, and in 1958 the Brazilian government awarded him the National Order of the Southern Cross ("Orden Nacional de Cruzeiro de Sul").

He co-authored the seminal book in his discipline, "The Electrophysiology of the Heart," in 1960 with Paul F. Cranefield, his colleague at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, where Dr. Hoffman served on the faculty from 1949 until 1963. When Dr. Hoffman left Downstate, he was full professor of physiology and acting chair of the department. Dr. Hoffman and Dr. Cranefield were colleagues again at Columbia for a few years before Dr. Cranefield joined Rockefeller University. Dr. Hoffman held several titles at Rockefeller University in addition to his Columbia appointment: guest investigator, adjunct professor, then visiting investigator.

"The Electrophysiology of the Heart" was the first comprehensive review of the then-young field of study of the electrophysiology of the heart using intracellular recordings. In work beginning at Downstate, Drs. Hoffman and Cranefield were among the pioneers who changed the field of cardiology by using microelectrodes small enough to record signals from single heart cells, leading to new information in cardiac physiology and pharmacology. After moving to Columbia, Dr. Hoffman devoted his research to understanding the mechanisms for abnormalities of cardiac rhythm and the basis for the actions of antiarrhythmic drugs.

In 1988, Drs. Hoffman and Cranefield received the Medal of the New York Academy of Medicine for work that ushered in a "new era in cardiac physiology and pharmacology."

Besides his research and editorial contributions, Dr. Hoffman has been recognized many times for his mentorship of students and fellows. In presenting him the 2000 Eugene Braunwald Academic Mentorship Award, the American Heart Association cited his long and noteworthy career in guiding the development of several generations of scientists, practitioners, and educators. "He trained a cadre of professionals who have extended their expertise to countless others, creating a continuum of excellence that has had an incalculable impact on medical education, basic and clinical research, and patient care." The Heart Rhythm Society in 2011 saluted Dr. Hoffman's contributions with an exhibit highlighting the dozens of investigators and students he trained in experimental electrophysiology over multiple generations, a virtual "who's who" in academic medicine and research in the field of cardiac arrhythmias. The salute outlined his contributions in three areas: study of the basis of normal and abnormal cardiac impulse initiation and conduction; identification of the mechanisms responsible for cardiac arrhythmias; and application of the results of basic research in electrophysiology and pharmacology to patient care.

In addition to chairing a department at Columbia, Dr. Hoffman served as the medical school's associate dean starting in 1988, responsible for the grants and contracts office and the animal care program. He played a leading role in obtaining an NIH Medical Scientist Training Program grant for P&S and directed the program during its first six years. The program evolved into today's combined M.D./Ph.D. program.

Dr. Hoffman served on the editorial boards of several peer-reviewed journals and was editor of Circulation Research from 1976-1980. He was president of the New York Heart Association from 1977-79.

Brian Francis Hoffman was born in New York City March 26, 1925. He was the first one in his family to be born in this country, born a few years after his parents moved from their native Canada to the United States. He attended the Hackley School in Westchester, N.Y., and Princeton University. He graduated first in his class from Long Island College of Medicine, where he received his M.D. degree and was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha, the highest honor society in the medical field. He completed his internship and residency in medicine at Lenox Hill Hospital before beginning his career in academic medicine at Downstate. For Downstate's 150th anniversary, Dr. Hoffman was recognized in a collection of biographies about notable Downstate alumni and faculty and in 1972 he received a Distinguished Alumni Award from SUNY Downstate. SUNY gave him an honorary doctorate in 1997.

Dr. Hoffman's first wife, Ellen Ludgate, preceded him in death. He is survived by their three children, Valerie Edelman, Sheila Hoffman, and Bruce Hoffman, and his second wife, the former Isis Rivero Wilson. He also is survived by his stepdaughters, Maria-Teresa Samwick and Alicia Wilson, and his grandchildren, Nicole and David Edelman and Aidan and Lilian Samwick.