Edward N. Brandt Jr. became president of the University of Maryland at Baltimore (UMAB) on Jan. 1, 1985. It marked his return to academia. Just prior to his appointment at UMAB, he was the assistant secretary for health of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, where he had responsibility for the 48,000 employees of the U.S. Public Health Service.
John S. Toll, PhD, chancellor of the University System of Maryland, lauded Brandt’s hiring by saying, "As the country's ranking official for health affairs, Dr. Brandt has displayed remarkable skills in handling the nation's health concerns."
During his nearly four-year stay in Washington, Brandt testified more than 100 times before Congress. An epidemiologist and biostatistician, Brandt had a particular interest in health promotion and a reputation as a crusader for health care cost containment. He also initiated requirements for tamper-proof drug packaging after highly publicized Tylenol poisonings.
At the time of his UMAB hiring, rapid advances had spurred debates on a wide range of social issues including access to health care, ethical matters, the right to die, adoption, and child abuse.
"Universities play a special role in determining the range of options and consequences,” Brandt said. “One advantage of the UMAB campus is the unique mixture of academic schools that can shed light on such important issues."
While with the Department of Health and Human Services in the early 1980s, Brandt oversaw the nation’s initial response to AIDS, whose cause was unknown, and was regarded as inevitably fatal. In 1983, Brandt said that investigating the disease had become “the No. 1 priority” of the Public Health Service. At the time, only 1,450 AIDS cases had been reported. Brandt found himself in a difficult position. While AIDS was his first priority, it was not for the rest of the Reagan administration, whose policy was to cut costs. But as a physician, Brandt knew that scientists needed money to study AIDS. Brandt maintained a public position that the government was spending enough money on AIDS and other diseases. But he worked internally and with great difficulty to try to overcome bureaucratic and political obstacles to allocating more money for AIDS.
He established a government hotline to provide information about the AIDS outbreak and appointed three prominent researchers—James Curran, MD, of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Anthony Fauci, MD, and Robert Gallo, MD, of the National Institutes of Health (Gallo now heads the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute of Human Virology)—to head teams searching for what causes AIDS, how it spreads, and how it might be treated. AIDS "was the first time in our nation's history that the federal government was called upon to fight an epidemic," Brandt said later. "That represented a historic change." Brandt also promoted research on women's health and supported bringing more women into the federal scientific establishment, a role that led Vivian Pinn, MD, of the NIH to call him "the godfather of women's health."
With the exception of his government service, Brandt devoted his professional career to academic centers concerned with health care, research, and education. He earned both an MD degree and a PhD in biostatistics at the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine. Following graduation, he served as a member of the faculty from 1961 to 1970, during which time he also served as associate dean of the medical school, associate director of the medical center, and chair of the School of Health's Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology.
Brandt joined the University of Texas medical branch at Galveston in 1970 and held key administrative positions during his seven-year stay, including dean of the graduate school, dean of medicine, and executive dean. His record led to his appointment as vice chancellor for health affairs at the University of Texas System in Austin, where he oversaw the administration of six health campuses, a position he held until I981.
After leaving UMAB in 1989, he returned to the University of Oklahoma School of Medicine as executive dean and, though officially retired, continued working and teaching until shortly before his death.
Brandt received numerous awards, including three honorary doctorates and the highest honor of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the Distinguished Leadership Award.
He died on Aug. 25, 2007, at his home in Oklahoma City with his wife of 54 years, Patricia. Brandt was 74 and had been suffering from lung cancer, though he was a non-smoker. The cause of death was ironic in that it was during Brandt's watch in the Department of Health and Human Services that the United States issued its strongest reports linking smoking to cancers of the lung and other organs.