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Innovators & Pioneers

Kenneth Brinkhous

Born: 1908
Died: 2000
Nationality: American
Occupation: physician

Kenneth Brinkhous was a Iowa native who attended the U.S. Military Academy and received his bachelor's degree from Iowa State University of Science and Technology in 1929 and medical degree there in 1932. The University of Iowa appointed him to its faculty in 1932, and he later rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel in the Army Medical Corps during World War II.

While at Iowa, Brinkhous discovered that hemophiliacs could not make a blood-clotting factor he named antihemophilic factor and which now is called Factor VIII. Although not the disease's cause, lack of the protein results in life-threatening symptoms such as uncontrolled bleeding.

Brinkhous joined the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) School of Medicine as pathology chairman in 1946. At Chapel Hill, he and colleagues explained the genetics underlying hemophilia's transmission and showed that the disease also occurs in females. In addition, they developed a test to detect clotting disorders -- the partial thromboplastin test -- that is still used millions of times a day around the world and showed they could control hemophilia by first replacing Factor VIII through blood plasma. Another breakthrough was learning to purify and concentrate Factor VIII so that it worked far better. Brinkhous also became a world leader in explaining von Willebrand's disease, the clotting effects of snake venom, and blood clotting leading to stroke and heart attacks.

He wrote or contributed to more than 450 research papers and books, served on the editorial boards of 18 journals, including the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, and edited four journals.

Among his many honors were the American Association of Pathologists; Top Gold Headed Cane Award; election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences, and the Institute of Medicine; and honorary doctorate degrees from UNC-CH and the University of Chicago. He was named Alumni Distinguished Professor at UNC-CH and recipient of the O. Max Gardner Award from the UNC Board of Governors, both in 1961. The university named both its Brinkhous-Bullitt Building and an endowed professorship in his honor. In 1969, he received the North Carolina Award in Science.

Source: The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.