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[June 29, 2010]


Noted Nephrologist Eli Friedman Receives National Award for Contributions to Renal Medicine


Eli A. Friedman, MD, distinguished professor, physician, and researcher at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, is the recipient of the 2010 Barney Clark Award from the American Society for Artificial Internal Organs (ASAIO). Known worldwide for his work in diabetic nephropathy, Dr. Friedman has helped save and extend the lives of many patients suffering from renal disease.

The ASAIO was formed in 1955 to “increase the knowledge about artificial organs and of their utilization.” Its Barney Clark Award is named for Barney B. Clark, DDS, who volunteered to receive the first totally artificial heart. The award is given to individuals for “long and meritorious achievement and pioneering efforts” in biomedical engineering using engineering principles to benefit patient care.

A graduate of SUNY Downstate’s College of Medicine, Dr. Friedman completed his medical training at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, from 1957 to 1961. After two years as an epidemic intelligence officer for the US Public Health Service’s Communicable Disease Center, he joined the faculty of medicine at Downstate and established the Division of Renal Medicine in the Department of Medicine. Not long after, in 1964, he launched the first federally funded dialysis clinic in the nation. Throughout his long and distinguished career, he has contributed many important firsts, but this remains one of his crowning achievements. 

Dr. Friedman’s hemodialysis program extended the lives of patients who otherwise would have faced near-certain death. The first African-American, Hispanic, Catholic, and Orthodox Jewish patients, as well as the first Catholic priest to receive ordination and the first student to attend medical school while on dialysis, all received treatment through this program, which became a model for the country to follow.

At Downstate, where he holds the rank of SUNY Distinguished Teaching Professor, Dr. Friedman has trained and promoted the careers of other recognized leaders in nephrology. One close associate, Barbara Delano, MD, MPH, professor of medicine at Downstate, pioneered home dialysis. This was followed by Dr. Friedman’s own invention of a portable dialyzer, nicknamed the  “suitcase kidney,” which gave patients even greater freedom and mobility. Although he stepped down as chief of nephrology in 2009, Dr. Friedman continues to serve as director of academic development in the Department of Medicine.

Since heart disease and renal problems are closely related, much of Dr. Friedman’s clinical research has focused on the course of diabetes and high blood pressure. His work has been recognized by the American College of Physicians, which conferred the honor of Master, as well by many other national and international societies.

In addition to editing nine books and publishing more than 500 peer-reviewed papers, Dr. Friedman has served as president of both the American and International Societies for Artificial Organs and the International Society for Geriatric Nephrology and Urology.  He is consistently listed as a “Best Doctor” in New York magazine and in the international and national Who’s Who.

The Barney Clark Award is an especially fitting tribute to Dr. Friedman’s lifetime of achievements, given his close friendship with the late Willem J. Kolff, MD, PhD. Dr. Friedman brought Dr. Kolff to SUNY Downstate as an adjunct professor of medicine, a position Dr. Kolff held at his death three days short of his 98th birthday in 2009. Known as the father of the development of artificial organs, Dr. Kolff built an artificial kidney in the Occupied Netherlands during WWII and helped design the first permanent artificial heart, which was implanted into Dr. Clark in1982. The procedure was performed by William DeVries, MD, using the Jarvik-7, designed by Robert Jarvik, MD, under the mentorship of Dr. Kolff.


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 School of Public Health, University Hospital of Brooklyn, and an Advanced Biotechnology Park and Biotechnology Incubator.

SUNY 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.