Having earned both his bachelors (1956) and medical degrees (1960) from Washington University, Dr. Gustav Schonfeld had a long and notable career with the medical school. After residency in internal medicine at New York University, he returned to Washington University in 1963 to serve as chief resident at Jewish Hospital and as a fellow in endocrinology and metabolism at Barnes Hospital. It was during his fellowship in metabolism that Schonfeld began studying lipid disorders, fatty acids and insulin resistance.
He interrupted his life-long career at the University to spend two years as a research flight medical officer with the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and an additional two years at MIT as associate professor of nutrition, all the while continuing his studies of lipid disorders.
After rejoining the School of Medicine’s faculty as director of the Lipid Research Center in 1972, his work focused on lipoproteins and atherosclerosis–the accumulation of fatty deposits in artery walls and coronary artery disease prevention. He was credited for discovering that the concentrations, compositions, structures and metabolism of lipoproteins are affected by changes in diet, hormone status and genetic factors. His work led to the design of low-cholesterol diets widely used today.
Schonfeld was a member of the Association of American Physicians and the American Society for Clinical Investigation, and a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He held editorial positions with Circulation, the Journal of Clinical Investigation, Atherosclerosis, and the Journal of Lipid Research. He was the author or co-author of more than 250 scientific articles.
In his 30 years with Washington University, he occupied many academic positions, including head of the Division of Atherosclerosis, Nutrition and Lipid Research, the William B. Kountz Professor of Medicine, the Adolphus Busch Professor of Medicine and chair of the Department of Medicine (1996-99).
Born in the Czechoslovakian town of Munkacs, Schonfeld and his family are survivors of the Holocaust. At age 10, he was imprisoned. Schonfeld credits his father, Alexander, for keeping him alive while the two were shipped to several concentration camps. Over half of his extended family was killed in Auschwitz, including his grandmother and his 7-month-old brother.
After the war, he and his father Alexander were reunited with his mother Helena. Together, with the help of family in the US, Schonfeld and his parents immigrated to the United States in 1946 and settled in St. Louis.
Schonfeld’s father, Dr. Alexander Schonfeld, became a medical intern at the University, working for Samuel E. Schechter, M.D., a young internist at the time. Many years later, Dr. Schechter established a professorship to fund Gustav Schonfeld’s lifelong research on atherosclerosis and the prevention of coronary artery disease.