University of Minnesota

The Minnesota Symposium on Arteriosclerosis, September 7-9, 1955

The delighted expression on the face of 30-year old Michael Oliver, center, among the giants of atherosclerosis research assembled at this early symposium is testimony to the excitement at the beginning of a Golden Age of CVD research. Similarly, a budding young investigator from Iowa, William Connor, recounts how his vision was enlarged and horizons widened by the experience of this conference at a crucial time in his formation as an investigator (Connor 2003). Minnesota, Ancel Keys and Paul White, were at the center, and the new National Heart Institute was spreading the word along with its largesse.

James Watt, epidemiologist and director of the National Heart Institute, opened this seminal conference by elaborating the mission of the Institute in meeting the challenge from arteriosclerosis. The Institute, only seven years old, had already awarded the stupendous sum of $4,500,000 in extramural grants for arteriosclerosis research. Watt reported on the clinical and laboratory contributions and lauded the Framingham Study as the principal example of heart disease epidemiology. He also announced the establishment of new pre- and post-doctoral level training programs and described the renewed activities of the Heart Disease Control Program. The scientific community assembled was well launched into CVD prevention research. It was communicating and seeking out collaboration worldwide.

The Minnesota Symposium topics were broad, embracing life insurance mortality data, laboratory research, anatomy and pathogenesis, and an historical account of coronary disease by Paul Dudley White of Boston. Pathogenesis was addressed in conventional and experimental terms by Irvine Page of the Cleveland Clinic, Gardner McMillan of Montréal, and Louis Katz of Chicago.[1] John Brock brought strong evidence of cultural effects from comparisons of Cape-colored, Bantu, and European populations of South Africa. Haqvin Malmros presented the remarkable changes in frequency of atherosclerosis during and after World War II in Scandinavia, and several discussed the latest strategies in medical and surgical treatment.

Ancel Keys, almost a decade earlier, had posed a hypotheses of mode of life and coronary disease risk. Already the risk characteristics studied and reported at the symposium included sex, body build and type, race and heredity, overweight and obesity, tobacco smoking, alcohol, physical activity, emotions, stress and strain, diet and blood lipids. Already individual differences were suggested in the risk of developing severe atherosclerosis and dying of coronary heart disease. Keys held, a little prematurely, “no convincing brief” for the primary importance of heredity, overweight, body form, use of tobacco or alcohol, or physical activity. He summarized: “I believe that a powerful effect of the diet on human atherogenesis can no longer be doubted. Though it is easy to point to many unanswered questions about the effect of the diet, it is more and more clear that there is a broad interrelationship between the dietary fats, the concentration of cholesterol, especially that in the beta lipoprotein fraction of the serum, and the development of atherosclerosis. In any case, in the effect of the mode of life must be our hope for the future. I think we can be confident that this hope is well founded.” (Keys 1955, 36). The 1955 Minnesota Symposium on Arteriosclerosis harbored no serious dissenters in its midst. (Henry Blackburn)

[1] Other symposium participants included Christian Anfinsen from Bethesda, Lena Wills from Cleveland, Ivan Frantz from Minneapolis, David Barr from New York City, Michael Oliver from Edinburgh, Jesse Marmoston from Los Angeles, William Maloney from Minneapolis, James Watt from Bethesda, William Shepard and Herbert Marks from New York City, Irvine Page from Cleveland, G.C. McMillan from Montreal, William Wartman from Chicago, Louis Katz from Chicago, Paul D. White from Boston, A. Wilbur Duryee from New York City, Edgar Hines from Rochester, MN, C. Miller Fisher from Boston, John Brock, Haquin Malmros and Gerhard Wigand from Lund, Sweden, Ernst Simonson from Minneapolis, Elliot Newman from Nashville, Wm. Scarborough from Baltimore, Henry Russek from Staten Island.


Keys, Ancel 1955. Arteriosclerosis: A symposium presented by the Minnesota Heart Association and the University of Minnesota September 7, 8, 9, 1955. Minnesota Medicine 38:731-808, 829-935.

Connor, William and Sonja Connor. 2002. Interview by Henry Blackburn. Tape recording. September 2. Portland, OR. University of Minnesota CVD history interviews.


Legend:Visiting pioneer researchers in atherosclerosis at the 1955 Minnesota
Symposium. L to R: Louis Katz of Chicago, John Brock of Cape Town, Michael
Oliver of Edinburgh, Irvine Page of Cleveland, and Paul Dudley White of
Boston. Photograph courtesy of Michael Oliver.