Hypertension Expert George Bakris Mourned by Colleagues and Friends

Those who knew him recall a passionate physician and generous collaborator who brought “intellect and zaniness” to his work.

Hypertension Expert George Bakris Mourned by Colleagues and Friends

Photo Credit: University of Chicago

Pioneering hypertension researcher, physician, mentor, and journal editor George L. Bakris, MD, died on June 15, 2024, at age 72. News of his death was confirmed by colleagues and his institution.

At the time of his death, Bakris, was director of the University of Chicago Comprehensive Hypertension Center, where he had worked since 2006. Prior to that, he had been vice chairman of the department of preventive medicine for over a decade at Rush University Medical Center.

In a statement about his death sent to university faculty, Everett E. Vokes, MD (University of Chicago Medicine & the Biological Sciences, IL), said Bakris was “passionate and worked tirelessly to advance and provide the best care to patients.”

News of his death evoked a flood of sentiment from colleagues and friends.

To TCTMD, Robert D. Brook, MD (Wayne Health and Wayne State University, Detroit, MI), simply stated that Bakris was easy to love.

“Everyone recognized his huge personality, boundless energy, and infectious humor. He always brought an inimitable combination of intellect and zaniness to every meeting,” said Brook, who first met Bakris as a young junior faculty member.

George was always the rock star in the room—nobody else even came close. Robert D. Brook

“I always went to him for discussions and to ponder questions, even later in my career,” he said. “Even so, what I did not love about George was having to follow him on the lecture stage, which I unfortunately did on many occasions. George was always the rock star in the room—nobody else even came close. I have tried as best I could to emulate him in academia, and maybe one day I’ll get it half as good.”

Frequent collaborator and friend Darren McGuire, MD (UT Southwestern Medical Center, Dallas, TX), said he felt blessed to have known him.

"He was larger than life always, never shy to express his opinions, and when he did, I always learned. A true champion of first and foremost optimizing the care of the patient; of education to the broader clinical community of new developments that directly impact clinical practice; and of education of trainees,” he added. “I already miss him, and I just hope on the other side that they have a huge assortment of designer eyeglasses to choose from. I raise a toast to a life that materially informed and impacted clinical care around the world.”

Knowledge and Wisdom

Bakris graduated from Indiana University Bloomington in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in biology/psychology. After earning a master’s degree at the University of Chicago, he attended medical school at University Health Sciences/The Chicago Medical School, graduating with honors in 1981.

Over his career, Bakris authored more than 800 peer-reviewed manuscripts and book chapters on diabetic kidney disease, hypertension, and nephropathy progression. His most recent work was as an investigator for the FLOW trial, showing that the GLP-1 receptor agonist semaglutide (Novo Nordisk) reduces the risk of major kidney disease events, MACE, and all-cause death in patients with diabetes and chronic kidney disease.

Bakris was a past president of the American College of Clinical Pharmacology and of the American Society of Hypertension (ASH), which has since merged with the American Heart Association. He also served as a member of the cardio-renal advisory board of the US Food and Drug Administration.

Over his career, Bakris was involved in a number of important guideline-writing committees, including the Joint National Committee (JNC) VI and the JNC 7, and the National Kidney Foundation's Kidney Disease Outcomes Quality Initiative blood pressure guideline committee and diabetes guideline committee. He also served as chair of the American Diabetes Association (ADA) consensus report on hypertension in diabetes, co-chair of the ASH writing committee for two version of hypertension in diabetes guidelines, and was a member of the ADA’s clinical practice guideline committee.

In addition, he served as co-editor of the third and fourth editions of Hypertension: A Companion to Braunwald's Heart Disease. At the time of his death he was editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Nephrology, an ad hoc editor of Diabetes Care, and an international consulting editor of Hypertension Research.

Deepak Bhatt, MD (Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York), told TCTMD that Bakris was a generous collaborator.

“We worked together closely on many projects, including getting renal denervation on a solid scientific foundation with sham-controlled trials—a rather unpopular concept at the time, with far-reaching implications in many fields of medicine,” Bhatt recalled. “He has a long legacy of devoted trainees. In fact, on his recommendation, I just hired a former fellow of his to bolster our efforts in hypertension at the Mount Sinai Fuster Heart Hospital. In this way, his knowledge and wisdom will be kept alive for generations to come.”