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NKFI Mourns 'Giant in the field of hypertension' Dr. George Bakris

George Bakris, MD, an internationally recognized expert in hypertension and diabetic kidney disease, has died at the age of 72 years.


At the time of his death on June 15, 2024, Bakris was professor of medicine in the Section of Endocrinology and director of the University of Chicago Comprehensive Hypertension Center, Chicago. 



"Dr Bakris was passionate and worked tirelessly to advance and provide the best care to patients. He was an exceptional leader, mentor, and friend who we will miss dearly," Everett Vokes, MD, Chair of the Department of Medicine and Physician-in-Chief, University of Chicago Medicine & the Biological Sciences, wrote in a letter to faculty and staff.


Dr Bakris had a long history with NKFI in various roles. He was a recipient of the NKFI Noel Foundation Research Award in 1986/1987 for his study, “The role of oxygen free radical generation in radiocontrast medium-induced decreases in glomerular filtration rate.”  He served as a member of the NKFI Executive Committee between 1995 and 2012, sharing his time, talent, and expertise with our nephrology professionals.  In 2021 he received the NKFI Lifetime of Service Award.  He was nominated for this award by several of his colleagues at the University of Chicago. A portion of his nomination letter, written by Dr Michelle Josephson highlighting the significant work he has done for the field of nephrology as a researcher, educator, and physician, is included below.   


National Kidney Foundation of Illinois Lifetime of Service Award

The National Kidney Foundation of Illinois (NKFI) Lifetime of Service Award is presented by the NKFI Professional Advisory Board and recognizes a medical professional who exemplifies a long-standing dedication and/or has made outstanding contributions to the field of nephrology.


Dr. Michelle Josephson nominated Dr. Bakris by saying:


Dr. George Bakris, Professor of Medicine at the University of Chicago, has made significant contributions to the field of nephrology and is well deserving of receiving the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois Lifetime Service Award. After completing a Clinical Pharmacology Fellowship in 1987 and a Nephrology Fellowship in 1988, he became an Assistant Professor at Tulane University. In 1991, Dr. Bakris moved to University of Texas at San Antonio where he was appointed as the Director of the Renal Fellowship. In 1993 he returned to Chicago as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine at Rush. While there he founded the Rush Hypertension Fellowship Program.


After rising through the ranks at Rush to Professor and also serving as a Lecturer in the Division of Nephrology at University of Illinois, he moved to University of Chicago in 2006, where, to this day, he serves as Director of the American Society of Comprehensive Hypertension Center. From 1995-2012, Dr. Bakris served on the Executive Committee of the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois.

 

Dr. Bakris’ contributions to our field are nothing short of extraordinary. He has served as a Primary- Investigator, Co-PI, or on the steering committee of our most influential clinical trials including SIMPLICITY HTN: a controlled trial of renal denervation for resistant hypertension, ACCOMPLISH: avoiding cardio events through combination therapy in patients living with systolic hypertension; AASK: African American Study of Kidney Disease; GEMINI: Glycemic Effects in Diabetes Mellitus Carvedilol- Metoprolol Comparison in Hypertension; KEEP: Kidney early Evaluation Program as well as ARTS-DN- FIDELO; AMEHTYST-OPAL; EFFORT; SIROCCA; MICAT; EXAMINE; INVEST; BEACON; AXILSARTAN ABPM; CREDENCE and other investigator-initiated trials. He has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers.

 

Dr. Bakris has worked on numerous national guideline writing committees, shaping the way clinical nephrology is practiced. Some of the Steering committees he has served on include, but are not limited to, JNC VI in 1997 and JNC 7 in 2002-2004, the American Diabetes Association Clinical Practice Guidelines in 1999-2000 as well as in 2018-2020, and AHA/ACC Resistant Hypertension Committee. In addition, he has participated in a number of NIH High Blood Pressure working groups and worked with the FDA.

 

He has served in a number of pivotal journal editor positions. Since 2003 Dr. Bakris has been the Editor-in-Chief for the American Journal of Nephrology. In that role he has provided the nephrology community with clinical and scientific discoveries that have helped patients and their practitioners advance the field. He has also developed and shaped the careers of nephrologists early in their career by providing useful feedback and mentoring them to improve their manuscripts and approach towards crafting future manuscripts. In addition to American Journal of Nephrology he has served as an Associate Editor of the Hypertension section of Up-to date, Diabetes Care, Nephrology Dialysis, and Transplant, Hypertension Research, American Heart Journal Plus: Cardiology Research and Practice, and on numerous editorial boards.

 

Dr. Bakris is not only an accomplished scholar, he is also an educator. He has been a frequently-invited speaker all over the world, having given over 1600 talks since 1985. These talks make up only a part of his educational efforts. He gives annual lectures to the Clinical Pharmacology Fellows, provides on service teaching to the medical students, residents and clinical fellows. He has trained 35 research trainees/postdoctoral fellows (from nephrology, cardiology, endocrinology, and general medicine) in a yearlong Hypertension Fellowship. And in a novel program, called Project ECHO, he gives bi-weekly lectures for 12 week blocks to primary care physicians in the Chicagoland area working in underserved communities. He also participates in CME teaching. Anyone that has heard Dr. Bakris teach or even spoken with him, appreciates that he has a naturally gifted educator.

 

Dr. Bakris’s consequential scholarship and teaching efforts have been accomplished while he manages patients with hypertension and kidney disease, attends on in-patient consult service, and provides clinical service interpreting 24-hour blood pressure monitors.

 

An internationally recognized and influential Nephrologist and Hypertension expert, Dr. Bakris has spent most of his career in Chicago, helping local patients, mentoring trainees, running the American Journal of Nephrology, and serving the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois. I cannot think of anyone more deserving for the National Kidney Foundation of Illinois Lifetime of service Award.


A 'Giant' in the Field

Colleagues took to X to remember Bakris.


"Very sad news of the death of George Bakris. He was a good friend, coauthor, mentor/supporter and the most recognizable leader in clinical hypertension in our generation," wrote Aldo Peixoto, MD (@ajpeixoto).


"A giant in the field of hypertension," added the Laboratory of Vivek Bhalla, MD — Stanford, California (@BhallaResearch).


During his career, Bakris published more than 500 peer-reviewed manuscripts in the areas of hypertension, diabetic kidney disease, and progression of nephropathy. 


This includes a landmark article in The New England Journal of Medicine last month showing that the glucagon-like peptide 1 agonist semaglutide reduces the risk for clinically important kidney outcomes and death from cardiovascular causes in adults with type 2 diabetes and chronic kidney disease (CKD).


In earlier pioneering work, Bakris showed that a potassium binder could alleviate the risk for hyperkalemia associated with renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system inhibitors in patients with CKD. This led to US approval of patiromer.


Among his many leadership roles, Bakris served as president of the American College of Clinical Pharmacology (2000-2002) and president of the American Society of Hypertension (2010-2012). 


'An Amazing Leader'

He was a member of the board of directors of the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) and served on the NKF's Kidney Disease Outcomes Quality Initiative (KDOQI) Blood Pressure Guideline committee and the NKF-KDOQI Diabetes Guideline committee.


Bakris also served as chair of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) Consensus Report on Hypertension in Diabetes (2016-2017), cochair of the American Society of Hypertension Writing Committee for the Hypertension in Diabetes Guidelines (2008, 2010), and a member of the ADA Clinical Practice Guideline Committee (2018-2021).


"George was an amazing leader who was committed to improving care for those affected by diabetes," ADA chief scientific and medical officer Robert Gabbay, MD, PhD, told Medscape Medical News


"George was a pleasure to work with, and his contributions to diabetes were truly immense," added Nuha El Sayed, MD, MMSc, ADA senior vice president of Health Care Improvement.


Bakris received many awards for this work, including the 2014 AstraZeneca Award from the International Society of Hypertension, the 2021 NKF of Illinois Lifetime Service and Achievement Award, the 2023 Luminary in Cardiometabolic Medicine Award from the Heart in Diabetes Group, and the 2023 Hippokrates Lifetime Academic Contribution Award. 


He received his medical degree from the Chicago Medical School and completed residency in Internal Medicine at the Mayo Graduate School of Medicine where he also completed a research fellowship in Physiology and Biophysics. He then completed fellowships in Nephrology and Clinical Pharmacology at the University of Chicago.


In 2023, Bakris received an honorary doctorate degree from the University of Athens, Zografou, Greece. Just last month, Bakris was awarded the Donald F. Steiner Award for Outstanding Achievement in the Treatment of Diabetic Nephropathy at the University of Chicago Diabetes Day.



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