Lives of the fellows

Hymie Louis Nossel

b.11 July 1930 d.9 October 1983
MB ChB Cape Town(1953) DPhil Oxon(1964) MRCP(1960) FRCP(1980) FCPSA(1958)

A specialist in haemostasis and blood coagulation, at the time of his premature death Hymie Nossel was professor of medicine in the College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University, USA, and an American citizen. He traced his roots back to the city of Kaunas, Lithuania, from which his ancestors had fled to England and South Africa during the pogroms at the turn of the century. He was proud of his Jewish heritage and devoted to his family, from whom he derived much joy.

Born in Cape Town, South Africa, the son of Joshua Nossel, a farmer, he was educated at Wynberg Boys’ High School and the University of Cape Town, pursuing his clinical studies at the Groot Schuur Hospital and graduating with distinction. After completing his residency posts he was appointed registrar, in 1956, to the medical unit run by Frank Forman. It was during this time that his life-long interest in blood coagulation was kindled by Clarence Merskey (q.v.), with whom he retained an abiding and characteristically loyal friendship.

In 1960 he came to England as research bursar of the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research to continue his studies in Oxford under Rosemary Biggs and Gwyn Macfarlane at the MRC Blood Coagulation Research Unit. He obtained the DPhil Oxon in 1962 for his thesis Observations on the early stages of blood coagulation. He followed this with a year as research associate at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York, in the haematology department. He returned to Cape Town for a brief period but soon rejoined Mount Sinai as senior research associate, becoming assistant professor of medicine, and assistant attending physician in 1966, as well as consultant to the Elmhurst Hospital. Later that year he was appointed assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University where he remained for the rest of his life, becoming full professor in 1972. He was also attending physician to the Presbyterian Hospital, New York.

In Hymie Nossel clinical and laboratory skills were combined to an unusual degree, and he was a prolific author. In addition to more than 70 scientific papers, notable for their originality and clarity, he was the author of three books: The contact phase of blood coagulation (1964); The fundamentals of haematology (1976) in collaboration with Rifkind, Bank and Marks; and Pathobiology of the endothelial cell (1982) together with Vogel. He also contributed chapters to a number of major textbooks, including those on haemostasis and its disorders in Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine.

Nossel’s wide-ranging contributions to medicine encompassed fundamental work on the early phase of blood coagulation, platelet-collagen interaction and platelet secretory proteins, the kinetics of fibrinogen cleavage by thrombin and plasmin (for which he devised brilliant techniques) and the role of 'the endothelial cell and its receptors in haemostasis and thrombosis. He was a born investigator, universally respected for his carefully conceived ideas and methodology.

There is no doubt that had his life not been cut short many more achievements would have followed. Clear proof of his scientific standing is that he continued to command strong support from the National Institutes of Health throughout the years of financial restraint. He served on a number of NIH study sections and as a consultant to the Clinical Center of the NIH from 1972 to 1976. From 1978 to 1982 he was a member of the International Committee on Thrombosis and Haemostasis; he served on the executive committee of the Council on Thrombosis of the American Heart Association during the same period, and on the council of the International Society on Thrombosis and Haemostasis, acting as secretary from 1981 to 1982 and being chairman-elect at the time of his death. He was also on the editorial board of several international journals, including the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Thrombosis Research, and Blood, of which he was an associate editor.

He married Renée Abt, a child psychiatrist, in 1965, and they had three children: a son, Neon, and two daughters, Suzanne and liana. They were a happy and close-knit family. As a physician, colleague, father and friend, Hymie Nossel was utterly loyal and sincere. Despite his strength of purpose and great authority, he was essentially a shy and modest man of wide culture and with an endearingly gentle sense of humour.

Sir Gordon Wolstenholme
Valérie Luniewska

[Lancet, 1983, 2, 1317]

(Volume VII, page 436)

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