Dr. Zapol

Warren M. Zapol, MD  Credit: Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH)

Dr. Zapol is remembered by the HST community for his generosity in spending time with students, and for his enthusiasm in introducing MIT graduate students to clinical and translational research.

Warren M. Zapol, MD, 79, the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) emeritus Anesthetist-in-Chief (from 1994 to 2008), the Reginald Jenney Distinguished Professor of Anaesthesia at Harvard Medical School (HMS), and an HST faculty member, passed away Thursday, December 14, 2021. Dr. Zapol is perhaps best known for demonstrating to the world that inhaled NO (nitric oxide) is a selective pulmonary vasodilator, a discovery that has positively shaped the course of modern medicine and helped save innumerable lives. 

Dr. Zapol graduated from the University of Rochester School of Medicine in 1966, joining the MGH residency training program in 1970 after a surgical internship at Boston City Hospital and formative research training years at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). After his residency training, he joined the MGH Anesthesia, Critical Care & Pain Medicine department as faculty, where he spent the rest of his career, rising to the academic rank of Professor of Anaesthesia at HMS in 1985. According to a notice sent by MGH, “Dr. Zapol was a visionary, an explorer, and an inventor. During an extraordinary career, he led laboratory and clinical programs in extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, acute respiratory distress syndrome, pulmonary physiology, and expeditions to Antarctica. He was generous and kind with his time, mentorship, and guidance. We, alongside a generation of clinicians and scientists worldwide, were influenced to reach for the stars by Dr. Zapol.”

Emery N. Brown, MD, director of the HST program, MIT, Associate Director of the MIT Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES), and the Edward Hood Taplin Professor of Medical Engineering and of Computational Science, MIT, said, “Warren’s discovery and demonstration that nitric oxide is a highly effective therapy for pulmonary hypertension in newborns and in adults is one of the most significant achievements in recent intensive care medicine history.” IMES is HST's home at MIT.

Dr. Zapol is remembered by the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology program (HST) community for his generosity in spending time with students—through his participation as an invited speaker in various settings and as a course director for different classes over the years. He was particularly noted for his enthusiasm in introducing MIT graduate students to clinical and translational research. Most recently, he taught a fully remote HST course in the spring of 2021, allowing Graduation Education in Medical Sciences (GEMS) certificate students to complete their course requirements despite pandemic-related restrictions on in-person clinical activities.

One student wrote in their spring 2021 course evaluation for the HST Clinical Experience and Selected Success Analysis virtual class: “Dr. Zapol did a great job finding interesting research for us to learn about. His passion for research and curiosity came through.”

He leaves his wife, Nikki, his two children Liza and David, and a large network of extended family and friends. Memorial details will be shared as they are confirmed.