Richard Bing: 12 October 1909 * 8 November 2010

By Vogt, Peter K. | Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, September 2014 | Go to article overview

Richard Bing: 12 October 1909 * 8 November 2010


Vogt, Peter K., Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society


RICHARD BING was a towering figure in the medical sciences who laid the foundation for much of contemporary cardiology. He was a pioneer in cardiac catheterization and the father of cardiac metabolism. He was also a Renaissance man who lived life to the fullest. I first met Richard in the early 1970s when we served together on an advisory committee. There was an instantaneous under-standing between us and a spontaneous affinity that became a cherished friendship. We were bound by shared roots, by the same passion for science, and by a deep love for the arts. Both of us had fled terrorist regimes. We had sought liberty and had found it in America. Both of us embraced this country with all our hearts and minds and became rooted here.

Richard was born in Nürnberg, Bavaria, into an art- and music-loving family. His mother was a professional singer, his grandfather a serious and devoted self-taught musician. Richard's gifts and interests tended to music but were equally strong in science. He had formal conservatory training, and when he entered the university, he studied both music and medicine. He received his M.D. degree in 1934. After a short stay in Switzerland, he went to the Carlsberg Laboratory in Copenhagen on a quest to learn tissue culture. But things turned out differently. At the Carlsberg Laboratory, Richard met two visiting scientists from the Rockefeller Institute in New York: Alexis Carrel and Charles Lindbergh. This was a fateful meeting. Richard collaborated with Carrel and Lindbergh on organ perfusion and artificial circulation. The work led to a Rockefeller stipend and an invitation to visit the institute in New York. It became a visit without return.

Richard remained in New York, first taking a position in Alan Whipple's Department of Surgery at Columbia University. He married Whipple's daughter, Mary, with whom he had two sons and a daughter. But Richard felt that he was not cut out to be a surgeon, so he moved into physiology and, in 1938, joined the laboratory of Homer Smith at New York University. Smith was a brilliant experimentalist; he was Richard's great mentor and role model. In Smith's department, Richard acquired the tools of experimental medicine and carried out important work on kidney physiology and hypertension.

When war broke out, Richard volunteered for the Army Medical Corps after a medical residency at Johns Hopkins. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in 1943 and served until 1945.

In 1945, Richard returned to Johns Hopkins, first to the Department of Internal Medicine. He was soon discovered and recruited by the eminent cardiac surgeon Alfred Blalock. The years that followed mark a pinnacle in Richard's life as a scientist and the golden era of cardiology and cardiac surgery at Johns Hopkins. Two keywords characterize this period: diagnosis and cardiac metabolism. Diagnosis came first. Together with Helen Taussig and Blalock, Richard started one of the first laboratories that applied catheterization of the heart to diagnosis. It was the first that focused on congenital heart defects in children, and techniques that were developed then are still in use today. Richard identified twenty different inborn cardiac malformations and defined their pathophysiology. One of these congenital defects is named after him and his coworker Taussig. Until then, the study of congenital heart defects tended to be an archival activity, listing everything that can go wrong during the fetal development of the heart. But the information obtained by catheterization was of immediate clinical significance and an absolute prerequisite for surgical correction because the imaging techniques available at that time were inadequate as guidance for the surgeon. Oxygen and hemoglobin values and nutrient and pressure readings are indicative of the specific anatomic changes associated with cardiac abnormalities and provide essential preoperative information. Richard's work became the critical enabling factor that allowed early surgical corrections of congenital heart defects. …

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