Cardiothoracic surgeon William E. “Billy” Cohn, MD, today was honored with the 2024 Earl Bakken Scientific Achievement Award at The Society of Thoracic Surgeons‘ 60th Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas.

Dr. Cohn is widely recognized for his contributions to the development of the continuous-flow, totally implantable artificial heart. He and his colleague, Dr. O.H. “Bud” Frazier, set out to develop an artificial heart that was small, practical, and durable enough to provide a permanent solution for patients in need. In 2011, they implanted the first pulseless, total heart replacement device in a human patient.

“Dr. Cohn’s innovative work in medical device development has helped launch a new era of implantation of mechanical pumps that support the failing heart, which has benefited thousands of patients worldwide,” said STS Immediate Past President Tom MacGillivray, MD.

“I have always been in awe of surgical colleagues and mentors who have advanced the treatment of cardiovascular disease by challenging conventional wisdom and developing new techniques and tools,” said Dr. Cohn. “The STS has honored many of the specialty’s pioneers with the Bakken Award. It is gratifying and humbling to be included in this incredibly prestigious group of legends.”

Dr. Cohn currently serves as director for the Center of Device Innovation at the Texas Medical Center (TMC). He also is a professor of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, and adjunct professor of Bioengineering at Rice University, the University of Houston and Texas A&M. Prior to joining TMC, he was a vice president at Johnson & Johnson MedTech, executive director for the Johnson & Johnson Center of Device Innovation at TMC, and director of the Center for Technology and Innovation and Director of the renowned Cullen Cardiovascular Research Laboratory at the Texas Heart Institute.

Dr. Cohn’s countless achievements include the development of the first self-retaining coronary stabilizer with integrated coronary control for performing off-pump CABG, the valve suture-chain for increasing speed and accuracy of valve implantation, and the percutaneous catheter-based system for creating AV fistulas for hemodialysis access. He has been granted more than 200 US patents or patents pending, which have provided the core technology for six venture-backed medical start-ups. 

The Earl Bakken Scientific Achievement Award was established in 1999 through a grant from Medtronic, Inc. to honor individuals who have made outstanding scientific contributions that have enhanced the practice of cardiothoracic surgery and patients’ quality of life. The award was named for Medtronic co-founder Earl Bakken. Among numerous other achievements, Bakken developed the first wearable artificial pacemaker.