Schatz, Simpson Share Russ Prize

Thursday, January 10, 2019
Richard A. Schatz, MD and John B. Simpson, PhD

Richard A. Schatz, MD and John B. Simpson, PhD

Two pioneering Duke University School of Medicine alumni who helped revolutionize the treatment of cardiovascular disease are among the five scientists named winners of the prestigious 2019 Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize.

The National Academy of Engineering and Ohio University announced the Russ Prize would go to Richard A. Schatz, MD’77, and John B. Simpson, MD’74, HS’75, PhD, along with Julio Palmaz, MD; Leonard Pinchuk, PhD; and Paul Yock, MD, for innovations leading to the widespread adoption of percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI). The $500,000 biennial prize, which recognizes a bioengineering achievement that significantly improves the human condition, cites the awardees for their “seminal contributions to coronary angioplasty, enabling minimally invasive treatment of advanced coronary artery disease.”

The Russ Prize will be presented at a gala dinner event in Washington, D.C., on Feb. 20, 2019.

“It’s a very pleasant surprise, and nice recognition for Duke, and I’m especially excited that John Simpson was also awarded,” said Schatz. “This is the first time we’ve been recognized as a team, which is appropriate because we each needed the others. John Simpson’s work built on the work of Andreas Gruentzig, who developed the first balloon angioplasty. Paul Yock built on Simpson, Julio and I built on all of them, and so on.” 

Percutaneous coronary intervention, also referred to as percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty (PTCA), is a minimally invasive procedure that uses a catheter to place a small metal cage called a stent to open up blood vessels in the heart that have been narrowed by plaque buildup. PCI improves blood flow, thus decreasing heart-related chest pain, making patients feel better and increasing their ability to be active. Stents have been particularly helpful in heart attack patients, where survival is definitely improved.

Tens of millions of patients have benefited from PCI worldwide, and this procedure has replaced or significantly delayed the need for open heart coronary bypass surgery.

Simpson helped revolutionize the field of cardiology through innovations that fundamentally altered how physicians treat cardiovascular disease. In 1981 he created a new catheter system for coronary angioplasty with an independently steerable guide wire in the central lumen of the balloon catheter, patented as the over-the-wire balloon angioplasty catheter. He now focuses his efforts on the treatment of vascular disease through the development of new technologies combined with a new approach to optical imaging.

Schatz, research director of cardiovascular interventions at the Scripps Heart, Lung, and Vascular Center and director of gene and stem cell therapy, is a recognized international expert in interventional cardiology and has published and lectured extensively. His seminal work in coronary stents spurred a revolution in the treatment of coronary artery disease; the modified design that he patented in 1991 became the gold standard for every subsequent stent submitted for FDA approval. More than 2 million stents are placed annually worldwide, with an undisputed and immeasurable impact on relieving mortality and morbidity, improving patients’ lives, and reducing health care costs.  

“The stent we came up with continues to endure; nothing has replaced it after 30 years,” Schatz said. “Every improvement since then has focused on drug coatings ad making it more deliverable. But the fundamental design hasn’t changed.” 

The Russ Prize was established in 1999 with a multi-million dollar gift to Ohio University by alumnus and esteemed engineer Fritz Russ and his wife, Dolores. Awarded biennially, the prize recognizes bioengineering achievements worldwide that are in widespread use and have improved the human condition.