Cardiac Electrophysiology Pioneer Dedicates Career to Correcting Heart Beats

Cardiology Magazine Fall 20143 Distinguished Scientists | Melvin Scheinman, MD, FACC, has spent a lifetime making the heart beat just right.

One of the pioneers of cardiac electrophysiology, Scheinman is best known for performing the first catheter ablation in humans. “Before if someone had a very erratic rhythm the only thing they could do was open the chest and destroy the region at fault with direct surgical means,” says Scheinman. “So I thought of the idea of putting a catheter in and doing something similar to what the surgeons do.”

Raised in Brooklyn, NY, Scheinman earned his undergraduate degree at Johns Hopkins University, demonstrating his drive and academic acuity early by graduating first in his class. While obtaining his training in cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center – where he still works as a professor of medicine – Scheinman was briefly in charge of the Coronary Care Unit of San Francisco Hospital. It was at this sister facility that Scheinman was exposed to a bevy of patients with heart rhythm disorders. As the tools for the invasive evaluation of these patients were just starting to develop, Scheinman took interest and branched into electrophysiology.

To this day, Scheinman still remembers the first patient to undergo his invented therapy in March 1981. “The patient was an oil refinery worker and had heart failure and severe rheumatoid arthritis so he wasn’t a candidate for surgery,” explains Scheinman. “The surgeon felt that he would never survive the post operative period due to his severe comorbidities. We had done work in dogs three years prior and when this patient came along, after institutional review board approval, he said, ‘Get on with it,’ and fortunately it worked.”

These days, investing himself in teaching and clinical research, focusing on patients who are born with predispositions to serious rhythm disorders at UCSF Medical Center’s Comprehensive Genetic Arrhythmia Program, Scheinman has remained an invaluable resource in the ever expanding practice of heart ablation. “The field has grown exponentially,” says Scheinman. “In more recent years, techniques have been developed to extend ablative procedures to very complicated rhythms in very sick people. Mine was just the first step.”


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