University of Minnesota

Thomas C. Chalmers, MD

1917 — 1995

Dr. Chalmers was a pioneer in clinical trial design and management, thus contributing to the advances in CVD epidemiology and prevention research. Educated at Yale College, he graduated in medicine from Columbia University in 1943 and subsequently trained in New York City and Boston, serving on the faculty of Harvard in Medicine and in Public Health and as dean of the new medical school opening at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City in 1973. There he was responsible for establishing strong departments of biostatistics and of geriatrics. Administratively, he once headed the VA Research Center in Washington D.C. In 1970 became Director of the Clinical Center of NIH in Bethesda, and ended his career on the Board of the Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center.

Chalmers sat on the steering committee of pioneering multicenter trials in CVD, the Coronary Drug Project, and the University Group Diabetes Program, and set forth several first principles of trial design, particularly the concept of “randomization from the first case” in any new therapy, and of independent data and safety monitoring.

His personal research is best known for demonstrating by a clinical trial that prolonged bed rest was not required for effective recovery from hepatitis A, and for his early application of meta-analysis to major therapeutic questions.

His character and contributions to medical science are colorfully depicted in comments made by colleagues at award presentations, the first by Hans Popper who called him an “annoying gadfly who challenged what appeared to be well-supported positions” (Kilbourne 1987, 913). Edwin Kilbourne said: “His works are full of the words ‘evaluation, appraisal, assessment, analysis, and comparison.’ If he has been our conscience and provocateur it is only because he has chipped away at our façade of intransigence and obduracy and illuminated the crevices of unsupported convictions” (ibid.). (HB)


Henry Backburn