Robert Cohen

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 03 March 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1197
  1. Janet Fricker, Hemel Hempstead
  1. janet.fricker1{at}

Academic physician, expert on acid base disorders, and notable committee chairman

Robert (“Bob”) Cohen was an academic general physician with an interest in metabolic disorders who made a significant contribution to the understanding of lactic acidosis. Cohen, who was professor of medicine at the London Hospital Medical College (LHMC), was also noted for his diplomacy and gained a reputation as an effective chairman.

“Bob was a giant intellect, while at the same time being the most modest and calm person you could ever meet. He represented one of that rare breed of absolute all round scientist and physician,” says Graham Hitman, the current director of the Blizard Institute, who was a lecturer with Cohen.

Peter Kopelman, another lecturer on the LHMC medical unit, now principal of St George’s University of London, says, “He showed absolute compassion towards his patients and total support for his junior staff and all other members of the healthcare team. Bob was additionally a great teacher, who enjoyed cajoling his team to think on their feet and in this way instilled an ability that we all still share, to solve problems at the bedside.”

At LHMC, where Cohen spent his entire career apart from six months at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, he rapidly rose through the academic ranks, appointed lecturer (1960-5), senior lecturer (1967-9), reader (1969-74), professor of metabolic medicine (1974-82), and professor of medicine and director of the academic medical unit at LHMC, later St Bartholomew’s and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London (1982-99).

Cohen’s interest in metabolic acidosis was triggered in the late 1960s, when he was consulted on two patients who developed lactic acidosis shortly after taking the antidiabetic drug phenformin. Reviewing 34 published reports of lactic acidosis in the literature, Cohen found that no less …

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