Pioneering Lipoprotein Researcher Richard Havel Dead

–Nobel laureates Brown and Goldstein say when they were starting out Havel taught them 90% of what they knew

Richard Havel, a scientist who helped create the entire entire modern field of research in lipoprotein metabolism, died last month. In response to the news scientists in the field have poured extravagant praise on the man and his work.

Richard Havel (Herz)

Richard Havel in 2006 (photo courtesy of Joachim Herz)

Havel is best known for research he performed while at the National Heart Institute (the predecessor to the NHLBI) between 1953-1956. His Journal of Clinical Investigation paper, The Distribution and Chemical Composition of Ultracentrifugally Separated Lipoproteins in Human Serum, has been cited thousands of times and is a foundation for the modern characterization of lipoproteins by density (LDL, HDL, etc).

In 2004 Scott Grundy wrote about the paper and its impact. “I recently asked Dick [Havel] why he and his associates did not call these fractions VLDL, LDL, and HDL, respectively, in their paper,” wrote Grundy. “He told me that these names were used routinely in their laboratory, but the editors of the JCI would not allow them to use these abbreviations. The terms did appear in print a year later.”

Havel, who was born in 1925, left the NIH in 1956 to join the faculty at the University of California at San Francisco. He served as the director of the UCSF Cardiovascular Research Institute from 1973 until his retirement in 1992. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Here are some of the many statements I received from researchers who were influenced by Havel:

Michael Brown (UT Southwestern Medical Center): “Richard Havel was a pioneer and a giant in the field of lipid metabolism. A broad and independent thinker, his experiments shaped the field. His global vision combined genetics and animal experiments to yield a comprehensive view of lipid transport in blood.. When Joe Goldstein and I entered this arena as young novices Dick Havel taught us 90% of what we eventually came to know. He will be missed.”

Joe Goldstein (UT Southwestern Medical Center): “The lipoprotein field began in the early 1950’s, and Dick Havel was one of its founding fathers. Not only was Havel an expert in lipids and lipoproteins, he was also a brilliant physiologist, an astute clinician, and a wise gentleman.”

Monty Krieger: “Dick was a wonderful scientist and gentleman. He was always generous with his time when called on to help with a question or problem and showed deep insights into biology and medicine. He will be missed.”

Joachim Herz (UT Southwestern): “I will never forget the morning in April of 1994 when I was preparing LDL receptor KO mice for a remnant uptake study in his lab and Dick wheeled in a tray with 6 60 ml syringes on it. My first thought was “OMG what have I gotten into” as I patiently explained to Dick that he apparently had the wrong concept about the blood volume of a mouse. Dick didn’t miss a beat as he informed me that the syringes were not for the mice, but for me, and before I could give informed consent I had a needle in my arm draining me of most of my life force. Needless to say, the experiments on the mice that followed where compromised by the fact that my systolic blood pressure was below 80, due to excessive volume loss, and my hands were shaking as a result. 2 days later Dick came back and, as I was steeling myself for another attempt at vivisection, told me that I would be safe from him in the future, since my lipid and apoprotein parameters were the most boring ones he had ever seen. He looked very disappointed. To this day, I somehow don’t feel sorry for having turned out to be such a disappointment!”

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