Dr. Robert Bruce, the University of Washington cardiologist who developed the first treadmill test to diagnose heart disease, died on Feb. 12 from leukemia and spinal stenosis. He was 87.
Developed in the early 1960s, the treadmill test allowed patients to run in place so physicians could evaluate heart function under exercise conditions. It became known worldwide as the “Bruce Protocol.” Before the test was adopted, physicians used the Master’s two-step, a test that called for patients to undergo an EKG while resting after doing 90 seconds of step aerobics.
Bruce’s first studies, which were published in 1949, analyzed the minute-to-minute changes in respiratory and circulatory function of adults who took a single-stage treadmill test. Fourteen years later, he updated his research to develop the multistage test he described in a 1963 paper.
Bruce earned his undergraduate degree from Boston University, and received his medical degree from the University of Rochester in New York. He became the University of Washington’s first director of cardiology in 1950 — a position he held for 32 years — and helped turn the school into a national center for heart research.