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Obituary
February 28, 2001

Kenneth M. Brinkhous, MD

Author Affiliations
 

Obituaries Section Editor: Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.

JAMA. 2001;285(8):1093. doi:10.1001/jama.285.8.1093

Kenneth M. Brinkhous, MD, emeritus professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and renowned coagulation researcher, died at his home in Chapel Hill on December 11, 2000, at the age of 92.

A native of Iowa, Brinkhous received the MD degree from the University of Iowa in 1932 and remained on the faculty there until World War II. From 1946 to 1973 he was chair of the pathology department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where he built a department noted for its balanced excellence in teaching, clinical services, and research. Working in a building named for him that towered over the campus, he remained active in research until several years before his death. He was recognized in the 1990s as the only researcher to have been funded continuously by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for 50 years.

Like others of his generation, Brinkhous was a product both the Great Depression and World War II. He personally lived frugally and spent the research funding entrusted to him with the same care. In lectures to students regarding the link between economics and disease, he explained that his interest in the stock market resulted from his observation that the 1929 stock market crash was a leading cause of death and deserved serious study as any other disease.

In World War II he served as a lieutenant colonel in the Army Medical Corps commanding an army field laboratory in the South Pacific. Dealing with military personnel, shortages, and red tape prepared him well for dealing with university and NIH bureaucracies. He always approached administrative obstacles as challenges that should be addressed with the same analysis and energy that one approached laboratory experiments.

Brinkhous' interest in coagulation was stimulated by an autopsy he performed in the early 1930s on a young man with hemophilia who died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage. While at Iowa he began the research that would help establish that hemophilia was due to an absence of the antihemophilic factor (now called factor VIII). After the war, he established at Chapel Hill animal colonies with inherited bleeding diseases that closely mimicked their human counterparts hemophilia A and B and von Willebrand disease. Brinkhous and his colleagues used these unique animals for numerous studies of hemostatic disorders to elucidate the genetics and pathophysiology of hemophilia, to develop effective replacement therapies, and eventually to test the efficacy of gene therapy. In 1953, in association with his colleagues Robert D. Landgell, MD, and Robert Wagner, PhD, he developed the partial thromboplastin time (PTT) that is now used daily throughout the world to diagnose and monitor treatment of bleeding disorders.

Brinkhous was active in numerous professional organizations and received many recognitions, including the presidency of the Federation for Experimental Biology and Medicine and membership in the National Academy of Sciences. He wrote or contributed to more than 450 publications and books and edited 4 medical journals. From 1974 to 1983 he served as editor of the American Medical Association's Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine and as a member of the editorial board of JAMA.

Brinkhous is survived by his wife, Frances Benton Brinkhous, and a son, John R. Brinkhous, both of Chapel Hill. Another son, William Brinkhous, predeceased him. Other survivors include 3 granddaughters and a great-granddaughter.

It has been said that we can see so far because we are standing on the shoulders of giants. Medicine has lost such a giant with the passing of Kenneth Brinkhous. Through his efforts spanning over 60 years and those of his colleagues, physicians can now see through the complexities of the coagulation mechanism to provide rational diagnosis and therapy for hemostatic and thrombotic disorders. And patients with hemophilia and other bleeding disorders can now envision relatively long and active lives.

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