This article originally appeared in the Fall 2019 issue of MIT Spectrum.
Claire and Ralph ’70 Brindis have devoted their lives to improving human health through evidence-based medicine and public policy. Their recent gift to establish the Brindis Family Fund at MIT’s Institute for Medical Engineering and Science (IMES) extends that commitment and advances groundbreaking work by MIT faculty and students at the intersection of science, engineering, and translational medicine.
“We’re scientists and scholars,” says Claire, “so we’re very interested in the role of evidence” in improving human health and well-being. It’s a priority they see reflected in the cross-disciplinary work of IMES and across MIT.
The Brindises are pleased that their fund will support graduate fellows working with Elazer Edelman, MD, director of IMES and Edward J. Poitras Professor in Medical Engineering and Science. Edelman also serves on the faculty of Harvard Medical School and is senior attending physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. Ralph describes Edelman as a “visionary” who is generating “incredible innovations in the treatment of cardiovascular disease” through pioneering research in vascular biology and the development and assessment of biotechnology for cardiac care.
The Brindis family’s MIT connections run deep: Ralph’s father and uncle were MIT graduates, and he completed his undergraduate degree in biology at MIT in 1970. He moved to Los Angeles to earn a master’s of public health (MPH) degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he met Claire, who was also pursuing an MPH at UCLA. As they pursued successful careers in medicine and public health, and raised two sons, Ralph and Claire have remained one another’s greatest champions: “We are each other’s best agents in terms of pride in each other’s careers and accomplishments,” says Claire.
Today, Ralph is a leading cardiologist and professor at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), who has devoted his career to advocating for quality care for cardiac patients. His distinguished career has encompassed creating national cardiovascular clinical practice guidelines, data standards, performance measures and appropriate use criteria. Ralph is best known as the father of the National Cardiovascular Data Registry, which collects data on the safety and efficacy of implanted cardiac devices and cardiac treatment. His professional honors include serving as president of the American College of Cardiology and numerous leadership roles in health care and policy making.
Claire, who immigrated to the United States from Argentina as a child, is a professor and director of UCSF’s Philip R. Lee Institute for Health Policy Studies. She is widely recognized for her scholarship in children’s and women’s health policy, health equity, and social determinants of health. She served on the National Academy of Medicine’s committee on women’s preventive health services and is proud that the committee’s recommendations helped to shape the Affordable Care Act, benefiting millions of American women. Claire has recently co-authored a book, Advocacy and Policy Change Evaluation: Theory and Practice (Stanford University Press, 2017), and is expanding her efforts to help community-based organizations strengthen their work through advocacy.
Ralph describes the Brindis Family Fund as “the perfect marriage” of the couple’s interests and the mission of IMES. Claire adds that by supporting graduate students at IMES, they are also supporting Edelman’s “very authentic commitment to mentoring,” a practice that has been important in their own careers.
As they look to the next phase of their lives, Ralph and Claire remain actively engaged in their fields while making more time for personal projects and family. Their sons, daughters-in-law, and four grandchildren are a particular source of joy.
Ralph looks forward to his 50th Reunion in 2020, to celebrate his MIT experience and to honor his father, who died of heart disease shortly before his own 50th MIT reunion. These intersecting links to MIT and loved ones remain important to their family, says Ralph, and the chance to be part of MIT’s future through the Brindis Family Fund is “an incredible privilege.”