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Edward D. Freis Papers 1926-2004
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Biographical Note

Edward David Freis (1912-2005) was born in Chicago, Illinois on May 13, 1912, one of four sons of Roy and Rose (Goldstein) Freis. He attended school in Chicago, graduating from Nicholas Seen High School in 1930, and earned his Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Arizona in 1936. He married Willa Irene Hussey on August 12, 1936, after they met in college. They had three children before eventually divorcing around 1974; the two remained close until Willa's death in 1999. A year after the divorce, Freis met Mary Rose Curtis, the woman who would be his companion for the last thirty years of his life.

Continuing his education at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons, Freis earned his M.D. in 1940. He interned at Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Boston from 1940 to 1942, serving as House Physician of the 5th Medical Service of Boston University at Boston City Hospital from 1941 to 1942. When the United States entered into World War II Freis joined the U.S. Air Force and served at Lincoln Air Force Base in Nebraska as Assistant Chief and Chief of Laboratory Services from 1942 until 1944. He then became Chief of Laboratory Service in the Rheumatic Fever Research Program at Gowen Field in Boise, Idaho.

After leaving the armed services in 1945, Freis returned to Boston for a cardiology residency at Evans Memorial Hospital from 1946 to 1947, and afterwards held the position of Research Fellow for two years. While at Evans, Freis authored his first article on the benefits of using drugs in fighting the effects of hypertension. In addition to this work at the hospital, he taught at Boston University of Medicine as an Instructor of Medicine.

Freis's growing interest in the study of hypertension led him away from Boston to a joint appointment at the Veterans Administration Hospital and Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, DC in 1949; there he would build his reputation and remain for the rest of his career. From 1949 to 1959, Freis served as Assistant Chief and then Chief of Medical Service at the V.A. Hospital, and taught at the Georgetown University Medical Center. A year after joining the faculty, he established the Hypertension Clinic at the Medical Center and served as its chief for ten years from 1950 to 1960. Beginning in 1957 he investigated the first orally effective diuretic, an agent called chlorothiazide. His work led to a promotion in 1959 to Senior Medical Investigator. It was in this capacity that Freis would make his greatest contribution to the study of hypertension: he set out to prove his theories that hypertension was a cause of heart attacks, strokes, and kidney failure, and not merely a symptom of underlying vascular disease.

In 1964 Freis and his researchers at the Veterans Administration designed and led the Veterans Administration Cooperative Study Group on Antihypertensive Agents. This five-year study, which involved 17 hospitals and over 500 patients, was the first multi-clinic, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trial of its kind. Freis and his colleagues based the structure of this new study on a similar trial in antituberculosis research at the V.A., and while it was a continuation of sorts of earlier antihypertensive studies, the initial goals of the trial were to determine the potency of certain antihypertensive drugs. In particular, the researchers looked at occurrences of morbidity and mortality in cases of moderate to severe hypertension. The results of this undertaking confirmed Freis's belief that even moderate hypertension could be deadly, and that treatment through drug therapy could reduce the death rate and help prevent the development of serious complications such as stroke, congestive heart and kidney failure.

Little fanfare accompanied the release in 1970 of the study's results, until Freis was awarded the Albert Lasker Foundation Clinical Research Award in 1971 for his role in the V.A. Cooperative Study. Mary Lasker of the Foundation was so convinced of the findings that she brought them to the attention of the National Institute of Health's Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare Elliot Richardson; shortly thereafter in 1972 he established the High Blood Pressure Education Program under the auspices of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The relative success of this first cooperative study laid the groundwork for many subsequent studies, many headed by Freis in his role as Senior Medical Investigator.

Throughout his long career, Freis actively participated in professional organizations such as the American Heart Association and the American Medical Association. He served on the editorial boards of several medical journals including Circulation and American Heart Journal. He has been recognized numerous times for his work, receiving the CIBA Award for Hypertension Research from the American Heart Association in 1981, and the first ever Stevo Julius Award for Education in Hypertension from the International Society of Hypertension in 2000. The National Conference on High Blood Pressure Control named an award after him in 1985.

Having received recognition for his contributions to the study of hypertension, Freis continued to work as a Distinguished Physician with the Veterans Administration until his death at 92 in February 2005. He had authored several books and chapters, countless lectures, and nearly 400 articles in medical journals worldwide. One of his most important articles, however, appeared early in his career: his "Hemodynamics of Hypertension," published in Physiological Reviews in 1960, drew attention to the relationship between circulation and hypertension. Many today consider this to be a classic text in basic hypertension; some of his colleagues rank this article with his V.A. study in terms of contribution to cardiovascular research.

Brief Chronology

1912Born Edward David Freis in Chicago, Illinois (May 13)
1936Receives B.S., University of Arizona. Marries Willa Irene Hussey (August 12); they have 3 children and eventually divorce (ca. 1974)
1940Receives M.D., Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
1940-1942Internship, Massachusetts Memorial Hospital in Boston
1941-1942House Physician, 5th Medical Service of Boston University, Boston City Hospital
1942-1944Assistant Chief and Chief of Laboratory Service, U.S. Air Force (Lincoln Air Force Base, Lincoln, Nebraska)
1944-1945Chief of Laboratory Service, Rheumatic Fever Research Program (Gowen Field, Boise, Idaho)
1946-1947Assistant Resident in Medicine, Evans Memorial Hospital (Boston, Massachusetts)
1946-1949Instructor in Medicine, Boston University of Medicine
1947-1949Research Fellow, Evans Memorial Hospital
1949-1954Assistant Chief, Medical Service, Veterans Administration Hospital (Washington, DC)
1949-1957Adjunct Clinical Professor of Medicine, Georgetown University Medical School
1949-1965Director, Cardiovascular Research Laboratory, Georgetown University Medical Center
1950-1960Chief, Hypertension Clinic, Georgetown University Medical Center
1954-1959Chief, Medical Service, Veterans Administration Hospital
1957-2005Professor of Medicine, Georgetown University Medical Center emeritus, ca. 2000-2005
1957Studies first orally effective diuretic, chlorothiazide
1959-1987Senior Medical Investigator, Veterans Administration Hospital
1960Publishes "The Hemodynamics of Hypertension"
1968Made Fellow in American College of Physicians
1964-1970Designs and leads the first double-blind, placebo-controlled, multi-clinic randomized study of drug efficacy in hypertension: the Veterans Administration Cooperative Study on Antihypertensive Agents. Forms basis for subsequent hypertension studies.
1971Receives Albert Lasker Foundation Clinical Research Award
1979Receives first Distinguished Service Award from Editorial Board of Dialogues in Hypertension
1981Receives CIBA Award for Hypertension Research, American Heart Association
1985Receives honorary Doctor of Science, Georgetown University Medical Center; National Conference on High Blood Pressure Control names award after him
1987-2005Distinguished Physician, Veterans Administration Medical Center, and Professor emeritus, Georgetown University Medical Center
2000Receives the first Stevo Julius Award for Education in Hypertension
2005Dies February 1 at age 92