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Dr. Herbert Weiner, 81; Pioneer in Psychosomatic Medicine

November 16, 2002|Elaine Woo | Times Staff Writer

Dr. Herbert Weiner, whose pioneering research into mind-body connections contributed to the rise of psychosomatic medicine as a distinct field, died of lung cancer Tuesday at his Encino home. He was 81.

A psychiatrist who taught for two decades at UCLA, Weiner had an international reputation as a leading researcher in the field.

He was the author of two books, "Psychobiology and Human Disease" (1977) and "Perturbing the Organism: The Biology of Stressful Experience" (1992), and he co-wrote or edited 20 others. He also was the editor of a leading journal, Psychosomatic Medicine, for a decade ending in 1982.

"He brought a level of scientific inquiry to the field," said Dr. Michael Irwin, a professor at UCLA's Neuropsychiatric Institute. "He asked, 'How do we set up experiments to evaluate how the brain communicates with the body and how stress impacts health?' That was his stamp."

In the 1950s, Weiner investigated how psychological processes and behavior affected the development of gastric ulcers and other diseases and found that stress was a contributing factor.

He later conducted research on the effects of behavior on other illnesses, including peptic ulcers, bronchial asthma and rheumatoid arthritis.

In the 1970s, Weiner was one of the first researchers to report on the behavioral effects of hydrocortisone, a drug commonly used to treat auto-immune disorders such as asthma.

He also was involved in studies that contributed to the development of psychoneuroimmunology, which examines the influence of the brain on the immune system. Among the seminal studies he participated in was one showing how grieving over spouses who died of lung cancer impaired the immune systems of women.

Weiner was also known as an exceptional teacher who trained more than 120 physicians and researchers. According to Irwin, many of his students have won prestigious awards and headed the psychiatry departments of leading universities.

Born in Vienna in 1921 and raised in London, Weiner came to the United States with his family in 1939. He graduated from Harvard College in 1943 and earned his medical degree from Columbia University in 1946.

During the 1950s and '60s he was a researcher at Walter Reed Army Hospital in Bethesda, Md., and at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. From 1969 to 1982, he headed the psychiatry department at Montefiore Hospital and Medical Center in Bronx, N.Y.

In 1982, he became the chief of behavioral medicine at UCLA and worked at the university's Neuropsychiatric Institute and Brain Research Institute. He retired last year.

He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Dora, a professor of medical humanities and history at UCLA; three sons, Tim of Mexico City, Richard of Brussels and Tony of Arlington, Mass.; seven grandchildren; and a sister, Mary Black, of Beaufort, S.C.

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