Ernst Jung Gold Medal for Medicine 2016: Professor Peter Libby MD
Peter Libby, MD, professor at Harvard Medical School and until recently Head of Cardiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, is the recipient of the Ernst Jung Gold Medal for Medicine 2016 for his lifetime contributions to cardiovascular medicine. The award from the prestigious Jung Foundation for Science and Research pays tribute to Peter Libby’s impressive basic and clinical research establishing the role of inflammation in cardiovascular diseases. Professor Peter Libby is regarded as one of the most influential cardiologists of recent decades and has brought about decisive advances both in basic medical knowledge and clinical practice.
Peter Libby, incumbent of the Mallinckrodt chair at Harvard Medical School, studied at the University of San Diego and graduated at the age of 21 with a Bachelor’s degree in biochemistry. Five years later, he completed his postgraduate degree in Medicine. In 1980, he became assistant professor at Tufts University School of Medicine, in 1990 associate professor and in 1996 a full professor at Harvard Medical School, where he has been the incumbent of the chair sponsored by the Edward Mallinckrodt Jr. Foundation since 1998. His extensive list of publications includes one of the most important standard works in cardiology, “Heart Disease”, which is now in its tenth edition and is constantly updated with the latest findings.
Peter Libby regards questioning the established theories as one of the most important stimuli for scientific research: “One must never be content with yesterday’s views and discoveries, but instead keep striving to solve the next major problem. And one should not be infatuated with one’s hypotheses; it is important to remain receptive to what the facts are saying. Some of the most profitable experiments have been those that did not adhere to the initial hypothesis.”
“Have fun while working hard” is the motto of the universally educated, multilingual scientist who also appreciates intellectual challenge during his scarce leisure time. He is currently dedicating himself to the original language versions of the literary works on which great operas are based, such as La Traviata, Tosca and Rigoletto. What mainly fascinates Peter Libby in comparing the original literary version and the libretto is the artistic accent that the composer has set when adapting the source material with his selection. Music is one of Peter Libby’s great passions. “I adore the works of Johann Sebastian Bach. Mozart’s music brings me pleasure every day. I marvel at Beethoven’s wild ideas. Haydn’s humour stimulates me. I am overcome with pleasure by the shimmering beauty of Schubert. I regard myself as fortunate to be part of the same species that has created something so magnificent.”
Accolade for a pioneer in cardiovascular medicine
Pathological changes in the arteries, which transport the oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the organs, can have dramatic effects. Cardiovascular diseases resulting from arteriosclerosis are the most common cause of death in the western industrial nations. The fact that arteriosclerosis is one of the causal factors of cardiac infarction, stroke and death from heart disease had been known for a long time in medicine. However, it was the work of the American cardiologist Peter Libby that was able to demonstrate the key role played by inflammatory processes in cardiovascular diseases. He therefore profoundly shaped the modern understanding of cardiovascular diseases and influenced current therapeutical approaches.
The Ernst Jung Gold Medal for Medicine pays tribute to Peter Libby’s groundbreaking research achievements – but also to his clinical activities. In fact, the foundation’s philosophy is to place particular emphasis on basic discoveries that have already translated to clinical benefits for patients. It also links the recognition of outstanding achievements with the promotion of new talent. The present award therefore includes a scholarship for a gifted junior scientist of Dr. Libby’s choice.