Obituaries Section Editor: Roxanne K. Young, Associate Editor.
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
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
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.
McLendon WW. Kenneth M. Brinkhous, MD. JAMA. 2001;285(8):1093. doi:10.1001/jama.285.8.1093