A pioneer in medicine, the IMES and HST faculty member transitions to emeritus status on March 1.

Richard J. Cohen, Whitaker Professor in Biomedical Engineering in the MIT Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) and a faculty member in the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program (HST), recently announced his retirement and will officially transition to emeritus status within IMES on March 1.

Cohen was a pioneer in medicine, and in HST, from student to senior faculty member—and he has been a part of the program since it was started 50 years ago. He joined HST as a first year MD student in 1971 and then inaugurated the MD/PhD track by enrolling in the MIT Physics PhD program­—receiving both degrees in 1976. He joined IMES when it was founded in 2012 (IMES is HST’s home at MIT).

Upon receiving his graduate degrees, he continued both his academic and medical training, joining the medical research residency program at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital (which later became part of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital) while also conducting postdoctoral research at MIT. After his residency he became an HST faculty member at MIT and continued his clinical cardiology training at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital, going on to serve as an associate physician for 25 years. Throughout his career, Professor Cohen has exemplified the role of physician-scientist, dedicating his efforts to research, teaching and service at the interface of science and medicine.

Cohen’s research has revolved around the application of physics and engineering to solving problems in biology and medicine, particularly in the cardiovascular area. His work ranges from computer simulations to animal studies to clinical investigations; he has published more than 270 scientific papers and has had 39 US patents issued. One of the technologies developed in the Cohen Lab was the measurement of microvolt T-wave alternans to identify patients at risk of sudden cardiac death. This technology was commercialized, cleared by the FDA, and gained reimbursement under Medicare.

Cohen directed the HST Biomedical Engineering Center from 1985 to 1995. From 1994 to 2000 he directed the NASA Center for Quantitative Cardiovascular Physiology, Modeling and Data Analysis at MIT. He served as the team leader of the Cardiovascular Alterations Team of the National Space Biomedical Research Institute from 1997 to 2006.

During his time at IMES and HST, Cohen was an innovator in medical education directing a number of the core courses in the HST curriculum including the Cardiovascular Pathophysiology course and the Pharmacology course. He has served as HST lead for joint educational programs with the MIT Sloan School of Management. Cohen served as the co-director of the Biomedical Enterprise Program from 2004 to 2012. This program was a joint collaboration between HST and Sloan (students in this program obtained an MBA degree and an SM degree in Health Sciences and Technology, as preparation for leadership positions in the biomedical industry). Since 2013 he has been one of the three members of the committee that directs the continually growing Sloan Healthcare Certificate program; and he has taught two courses as part of this program: Medicine for Managers and Entrepreneurs Proseminar and Evaluating a Biomedical Business Concept.

In announcing his retirement, Cohen says that IMES and HST have been a “wonderful professional family, inside MIT, of which to be a member” and that they have “provided me the best environment I could ever have hoped for in which to develop a career. I always felt free to pursue my research interests; the faculty were universally supportive of me and of each other; and the students, postdocs and staff were all outstanding.”

Anantha Chandrakasan, dean of the MIT School of Engineering and Vannevar Bush Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, lauded Cohen’s contributions, saying: “Richard has had a tremendous impact on the IMES community and many areas of MIT. I am grateful to Richard for his leadership and mentorship, and for his many contributions to MIT.”

Elazer R. Edelman, Director of IMES, noted that “Richard has been a personal hero for decades. He led the way for generations of students and faculty. He welcomed many of us to the program, me included. He taught us in class and by example at every stage of our careers. His leadership and innovation provided direction and stability that took a fledgling initiative and made it the premier program of its kind.”

Upon his retirement, the endowed faculty chair, funded with the sale of MIT’s stock in Cambridge Heart, Inc., a company that he founded, will become the Richard J. Cohen (1976) Professorship in Medicine and Biomedical Physics.

Of this endowed chair, Cohen says, “It gives me the greatest satisfaction to know that, as a consequence of my activities, IMES will permanently have an additional faculty chair supporting teaching and research central to its mission.”