20th-century "medical Marco Polos" in the origins of preventive cardiology and cardiovascular disease epidemiology

Henry Blackburn

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


In mid-20th century, several streams of knowledge converged to create the new academic discipline of cardiovascular disease epidemiology and the new practice of preventive cardiology. One stream was modern cardiology, with the ability to diagnose myocardial infarction, to characterize and count its victims, and to report vital statistics on cardiovascular causes of death. Another stream came from burgeoning clinical and laboratory research and greater understanding of the underlying processes of atherosclerosis and hypertension. A third stream came from the observations of intellectually curious "medical Marco Polos," who brought back from travels their tales of unusual population frequencies of heart attacks, along with ideas about sociocultural causes. This led to more formal research about cardiovascular disease risk and causes among populations and about mechanisms in the clinic and laboratory. The broad river of investigation thus formed produced a risk paradigm of the multiple biologic, behavioral, and societal factors in causal pathways to the common cardiovascular diseases. An evidence base was built for sound clinical and public health approaches to prevention. Here, the author tells brief stories about 5 early and particularly observant world travelers and their influence on knowledge and thinking about prevention.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)756-767
Number of pages12
JournalAmerican Journal of Cardiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 1 2012

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was supported in part by Publications Grant 5G13-LM008214-02 from the National Institutes of Health , Bethesda, Maryland; The Frederick Epstein Fund of Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland; and the Councils on Epidemiology and Prevention of the American Heart Association, Dallas, Texas, and the International Society of Cardiology.


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