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Professor Dr. Helmut Drexler was 58 years of age when he died on 13 September 2009 while cycling on the outskirts of Hannover, Germany. Born in Karlsruhe, Germany, he attended medical school at the University of Freiburg. Initially, Dr. Drexler's academic efforts were in the department of pathology at the University of Freiburg. He then moved to the department of internal medicine, cardiology, and angiology in 1979. He was awarded a research fellowship from the German Research Foundation to work with Dr. Robert Zelis in the division of cardiology at the Pennsylvania State University College of Medicine and the Milton S. Hershey Medical Center, Hershey, Pennsylvania. He returned to Freiburg as a cardiology fellow before revisiting the United States in 1991 to work with Dr. Victor Dzau at the Stanford University School of Medicine. Subsequently, upon his return to Germany in 1996, he became director of the department of cardiology and angiology at the Hannover Medical School, developing it into a nationally and internationally recognized center for the diagnosis and treatment of cardiovascular disease.
Dr. Drexler and his colleagues were major contributors to the field of cardiac regenerative medicine. They conducted one of the first randomized clinical trials for treating, with the patient's own bone-marrow–derived stem cells, myocardial damage from ST-segment elevation myocardial infarction. A small, but significant, improvement in left ventricular ejection fraction was demonstrated in such patients (BOOST trial)—results similar to those shown in comparable patients by Profs. Andreas Zeiher, Stephanie Dimmeler, and their colleagues in Frankfurt, Germany.
In 2009, Dr. Drexler was the President of the annual Congress of the German Cardiac Society (DGK). At the time of his death, he had just agreed to be the European editor for Circulation.
Helmut Drexler made substantial contributions to the care of patients with heart failure and coronary heart disease, as evidenced by a sampling of comments made by his European colleagues:
“He was an inspirational clinician and scientist and an outstanding role model for all interested in scientific rigor, clinical excellence, and innovation.” And again, “He was a very kind person who always had time for some useful advice or some humor to calm a difficult situation.”
His death is a great loss to cardiovascular medicine not only in Europe, but worldwide.