Bernard Lown, M.D. (born June 7, 1921 in Utena, Lithuania) is the original developer of the defibrillator and is an internationally known peace activist. International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, an organization he helped to create, was awarded the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize for its work against nuclear proliferation. He now has a Cardiovascular Center in Brookline, MA called Lown Cardiovascular Center right in Coolige Corner, and a bridge named in his honor in the twin cities of Lewiston and Auburn, Maine.
Bernard Lown attended the University of Maine in Orono and majored in Zoology. He graduated from the institution in 1942 and wrote an Honors Thesis entitled "Multiple Alleles in Sex Determination of the Parasitic Wasp, Harborbracon."
Development of the defibrillator
Up until the late 1950s, fibrillation of the heart could be treated only by drug therapy. In 1956 American cardiologist Paul Zoll published a paper describing resuscitation of open-heart surgery patients by means of a 110 volt alternating current electric shock (derived from a wall socket) and conducted to the sides of the exposed heart by metal plate "paddles". While being an advance in emergency resuscitation, the technique was later to be shown to be both damaging to the heart muscle and of unpredictable effectiveness in reverting ventricular fibrillation.
In 1959, Lown, aware of the Zoll paper and of the complications resulting from the alternating current method, commenced animal research in an endeavour to define a less traumatic and more effective form of electric shock.
This work resulted in what became known as the "Lown waveform"; a single heavily damped sinusoidal waveform with a half cycle time of approximately 5 milliseconds. The waveform was produced by charging a bank of capacitors to about 1000 volts, then discharging the capacitors through an inductor to deliver the waveform to the heart.
Following the research findings, Lown contacted engineer Barouh Berkovits of the American Optical Company, who produced a clinical prototype defibrillator (often referred to as a "cardioverter") which became the basis for further technological evolution. The original machine, weighing some 60 lb (27 kg), delivered the Lown waveform at energy levels up to 100 joules for exposed heart application, and 200–400 joules for transthoracic application.
In 1960 he was one of the founders of Physicians for Social Responsibility and later the co-founder of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War. He also founded two organisations, SATELLIFE and ProCOR, which provide health information and assistance to developing countries. Additionally, in 1996 Dr. Lown founded the Ad Hoc Committee to Defend Health Care, a group of clinician activists dedicated to achieving universal health care.
International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War was awarded the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.
Bernard Lown is currently Professor of Cardiology Emeritus at the Harvard School of Public Health. He and his wife Louise have three children.
- http://www.lownfoundation.org/content/view/87/83/ LownFoundation.org - Dr. Bernard Lown
- Dr. Bernard Lown's Official Website
- The Lown Cardiovascular Research Foundation
- A Heart Doctor With an Extra Big Heart
- Prescription for Survival -- interview from the public radio program "Living On Earth"
- The Lost Art of Healing -- interview from the public radio program "Humankind"
- Bernard Lown papers, 1933-2033 (inclusive, 1960-1995 (bulk), HMS c300. Harvard Medical Library, Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine, Center for the History of Medicine, Harvard Medical School