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[December 4, 2008]

Dr. Eli A. Friedman Honored for 46 Years of Service to SUNY Downstate and Academic Medicine: 
Pioneer Founded First Federally Funded Dialysis Clinic; Invented ‘Suitcase Kidney’

Distinguished Teaching Professor of Medicine, Eli A. Friedman, MD, who stepped down as chief of nephrology at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in September, was recently honored by colleagues at a tribute held to mark his 46 years of service to SUNY Downstate Medical Center and to academic medicine worldwide.

Over the course of his career, Dr. Friedman substantially impacted the field of dialysis and participated in many of the breakthroughs in treating end-stage renal disease, including launching the first federally funded dialysis clinic and inventing a portable dialysis machine known as the “suitcase kidney.” The device gave patients dependent on dialysis the freedom to travel for the first time.  Dr. Friedman has also trained and mentored leading physicians in this field, including the first African-American and women nephrologists, and served as president of two national and two international societies of nephrology.

John C. LaRosa, MD, president of SUNY Downstate, described Dr. Friedman as an individual who exemplifies excellence in academic medicine and whose intellectual rigor helped make Downstate a leading medical center. “I have always been impressed by how broad Dr. Friedman’s thinking is. He embodies the concept of gentleman and scholar.”

Dr. Friedman is famous for his ability to ask delving questions, and a style of teaching that pinpoints issues with razor-sharp lucidity. An outstanding clinician, Dr. Friedman has been at Downstate Medical Center since 1963.  He was named one of the “Best Doctors in New York” in 1984 and 1996 by New York magazine, and one of the “Best Doctors in America” in 1996 by American Health magazine.
Dr. Friedman is a leader in medical education.  He helped train 155 renal fellows, many of whom have gone on to prominent academic and clinical careers.  The first African-American, Latino, and Orthodox Jewish patients to receive hemodialysis did so under Dr. Friedman’s care. Dr. Friedman has also studied kidney-transplant rates for low-income African-Americans, finding that they had a significantly smaller percentage of transplants. 

Dr. Ian Taylor, dean of Downstate’s College of Medicine, said, “Dr. Friedman is one of the ‘greats’ in dialysis. We are extremely proud of his record of accomplishment. It was his insistence that on the need for access for all patients, and his tireless efforts towards reaching this goal that opened the door for federal funding for dialysis treatment.”

The editor of Strategy in Renal Failure (1978), an initial text in a new field, and several volumes recounting symposia devoted to the Diabetic Renal-Retinal Syndrome, Dr. Friedman serves on numerous national and international boards and committees.  He is an advisor to the National Institutes of Health and has chaired the dialysis subcommittee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.  He has been president of the American and International Societies for Artificial Organs, chairman of the National Kidney Foundation’s Diabetes Task Force, editor of the National Kidney Foundation Newsletter, and associate editor of the American Journal of Nephrology and the American Journal of Renal Disease

Dr. Friedman has throughout his career been a forceful advocate for renal disease patients. When dialysis patients at Kings County Hospital Center formed the National Association of Patients on Hemodialysis (later broadened to include peritoneal dialysis and kidney transplant patients under its current name of the American Association of Kidney Patients), the world’s largest patient-support group, Dr. Friedman hired its first national president as a Downstate patient-affairs coordinator.
Dr. Friedman has been awarded two honorary degrees and four medals from universities around the world.

Luminaries from the world of medicine attended the event, including Christopher R. Blagg, MD, professor emeritus of medicine at the University of Washington, who with the late Belding Scribner, MD, initiated regular "chronic" dialysis as a long term therapy for kidney failure; Oreopoulos Dimitrios G. Oreopoulos, MD, PhD, professor of medicine, university of Toronto, who made peritoneal dialysis a valid alternative to hemodialysis for sustaining life after the onset of irreversible kidney failure; and Stephen Kamholz, chair of medicine at Long Island Jewish Medical Center and North Shore University Hospital and former chair of medicine at SUNY Downstate.
Moro O. Salifu, MD, MPH, Dr. Friedman’s successor as chief of nephrology, and Edmund Bourke, MD, professor and chair of medicine, organized the tribute to Dr. Friedman.


SUNY Downstate Medical Center, founded in 1860, was the first medical school in the United States to bring teaching out of the lecture hall and to the patient’s bedside. A center of innovation and excellence in research and clinical service delivery, SUNY Downstate Medical Center comprises a College of Medicine, Colleges of Nursing and Health Related Professions, a School of Graduate Studies, a Graduate Program in Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.

Downstate ranks eighth nationally in the number of alumni who are on the faculty of American medical schools.  More physicians practicing in New York City have graduated from SUNY Downstate than from any other medical school.