20th-Century “medical Marco Polos” in the origins of preventive cardiology and cardiovascular disease epidemiology

Am J Cardiol. 2012 Mar 1;109(5):756-67. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2011.10.038.


In mid-20th century, several streams of knowledge converged to create the new academic discipline of cardiovascular disease epidemiology and the new practice of preventive cardiology. One stream was modern cardiology, with the ability to diagnose myocardial infarction, to characterize and count its victims, and to report vital statistics on cardiovascular causes of death. Another stream came from burgeoning clinical and laboratory research and greater understanding of the underlying processes of atherosclerosis and hypertension. A third stream came from the observations of intellectually curious "medical Marco Polos," who brought back from travels their tales of unusual population frequencies of heart attacks, along with ideas about sociocultural causes. This led to more formal research about cardiovascular disease risk and causes among populations and about mechanisms in the clinic and laboratory. The broad river of investigation thus formed produced a risk paradigm of the multiple biologic, behavioral, and societal factors in causal pathways to the common cardiovascular diseases. An evidence base was built for sound clinical and public health approaches to prevention. Here, the author tells brief stories about 5 early and particularly observant world travelers and their influence on knowledge and thinking about prevention.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cardiology / history*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / history*
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / prevention & control
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Indonesia
  • Netherlands
  • Preventive Medicine / history*

Personal name as subject

  • Cornelis D de Langen