Myron Prinzmetal, one of the first cardiologists to actively explore the link between diet and heart disease and a tireless researcher and teacher, died Thursday at a Los Angeles convalescent home. He was 78 and had been retired since 1971.
A native of New York, Prinzmetal moved to Los Angeles as a youth and worked his way through UCLA and the University of California School of Medicine at San Francisco where he received his medical degree in 1933.
While still a student he worked with Gordon Alles, a chemist, and with Dr. Chauncy Leake, a pharmacologist, in the development of the stimulant drug amphetamine.
After additional studies in London he returned to Los Angeles to practice and teach at UCLA. At this time he began a career-long study of hypertension. In 1939 he joined the staff of Cedars of Lebanon Hospital, forerunner of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
Despite starting a new practice, which eventually came to include many of Hollywood’s best-known stars, he continued to devote hours each day to research and additional time at Cedars’ free clinic.
His first laboratory in Los Angeles had been set up in 1938 over a dilapidated garage near the USC campus. Later he had more elaborate quarters at the old Cedars hospital on Fountain Avenue where he conducted studies on shock, hypertension and the electrical activity of the heart.
One of his accomplishments was the discovery of a variant form of the type of chest pain known as angina that afflicts many people with heart disease. Unlike the usual form of angina, which strikes patients during exercise, Prinzmetal angina occurs in patients at rest.
In 1943, during World War II, he traveled almost every weekend from Los Angeles to Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco where he had been given the job of designing a research program that met the needs of war. He worked with Dr. Eleanor Gerlach Miles doing studies on shock, a major cause of death among wounded soldiers.
They were the first to clearly demonstrate the role of infection in shock.
In 1956 he was a co-developer of a motion picture process that enabled the simultaneous photographing of a human heart through a fluoroscope and a separate picture of an electrocardiograph from the same heart with the two images then being projected onto a single screen.
As early as 1960 he was urging the breeding of cows that would yield low-fat milk to help limit fat deposits in the body.
Over the years he served on the editorial boards of the American Heart Journal and American Journal of Cardiology and at his death had published 165 articles and two books.
Prinzmetal also pursued a variety of cultural activities and was an ardent collector of books, especially those dealing with the history of medicine and first folio volumes of Shakespearean works.
In 1962, he unwittingly purchased one of Great Britain’s protected art treasures, a portrait of Dr. William Harvey, the 16th-Century English surgeon who discovered blood circulation.
Although under no legal obligation to do so, Prinzmetal returned the portrait.
His survivors include two sons, two daughters and two grandchildren. A memorial service will be held at a later date.