He had to fight for years, even as his own hair fell out, but North Miami Beach dermatologist Dr. Guinter Kahn will be remembered as the man who helped countless men regrow hair on their bald heads.
In 1986, after 15 years of back-and-forth between Kahn and his medical assistant, Dr. Paul Grant, against the giant Upjohn Co., the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office added Kahn’s name to the first patent granted for a baldness remedy, minoxidil, which would be sold under the now-familiar name Rogaine.
Kahn and Grant earned royalties, said to be 2 to 5 percent, from Upjohn’s $200 million of wholesale annual revenues from Rogaine in the late 1980s.
The windfall didn’t change Kahn. He didn’t upgrade his aging Chevrolet Caprice. Or leave his medical practice.
“I will continue to see my patients. I’ll still go to my Rotary Club luncheons, because I enjoy that,” he told the Miami Herald in a 1988 cover story in Tropic, the newspaper’s Sunday magazine.
And he did just that, his daughter Michelle said.
Kahn, who opened his private practice at Parkway Medical Plaza in North Miami Beach in 1974 and worked there for more than 30 years, died Sept. 17 in Miami Beach at age 80.
Kahn, who graduated from the University of Nebraska Medical Center in 1958 and completed a medical residency at the University of Miami School of Medicine, would win the Distinguished Inventor of the Year Award in 1989 from the Intellectual Property Owners Foundation for his work with minoxidil. He also earned a King of Clubs of Greater Miami’s Outstanding Community Service Award.
But one honor meant just as much as the higher-profile awards to the quiet, philanthropic family man: an award he earned with his daughter Michelle for selling the most hot dogs at a Rotary-sponsored Thanksgiving event in North Miami Beach.
“He kept that award next to his Inventor of the Year Award,” Michelle Kahn said. “This was such a great thing to him. He would show all his patients, ‘My daughter and I won this hot dog sales award.’ Even when Dad was in the nursing home — he was still seeing a full load of patients until he had his stroke — they would all say, ‘You’re the daughter.’ He was always so proud.”
Kahn, born May 11, 1934, to a German-Jewish family in Trier, Germany, fled the Nazis with his family in 1938 and ended up in Omaha, Nebraska.
In 2002, he helped organize a global family reunion in Luxembourg. The family, 120 members who had been scattered before and after the Holocaust and World War II, flew in from the United States and Brazil, Israel, France, Ireland, Scotland, Argentina and Sierra Leone. Kahn and his partner of about 20 years, Judy Felsenstein, compiled a booklet that held information about the relatives, led the Sabbath dinner, visited old homes, and relived stories of their childhood.
“It was a bittersweet occasion; sweet because of all the people that were there ... and bitter because had the Holocaust not occurred, there would have been more than 1,200,” Kahn said in a 2002 Miami Herald story.
“Labels and social status was not important to him,” his daughter said. “Family was really important to him.”
As were friends.
In the summer of 2004, Kahn and his daughter traveled to Zanzibar to meet up with his pal of 30 years, Dr. Saroop Bansil, a dermatologist in Nairobi, Kenya. There, the trio helped provide dermatological care at a free clinic.
“Dad was like a kid in a candy store — he loved dealing with these people,” Michelle Kahn said.
But the minoxidil breakthrough will stand as his career legacy.
Upjohn originally synthesized minoxidil as a treatment of high blood pressure in the early 1960s. During tests, one of Upjohn’s consultants, Dr. Charles A. Chidsey of the University of Colorado’s medical school, where Kahn was the acting head of the dermatology department until 1973, observed hair growth on patients who had taken the drug for hypertension. Chidsey went to Kahn and Grant for advice.
Kahn and Grant worked on ways to allow minoxidil to be applied directly to the scalp to grow hair without the side effects that ingesting it would have on people without blood pressure problems.
In late 1971, they succeeded with an alcohol-based solution: ethyl alcohol, propylene glycol and a small dash — 1 percent — of minoxidil. Hair sprouted.
“I couldn’t believe what I was seeing,” Kahn said.
Some members of the medical community complained that Kahn and Grant were simply lucky in finding just the right solution. Their sniping upset the usually reserved Kahn.
“Luck is a good part of science. No one talks about the 200 experiments I did with various things that did not work. So there was luck that one worked. Why didn’t anyone want to give us credit for that?” he said in the 1988 Herald story, the same year the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved of the use of Rogaine.
Kahn supported Miami Jewish Health Systems and helped rebuild the dermatology department of Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, Israel. Two library additions carry his name at the University of Nebraska.
As for his own hair loss, Rogaine didn’t work. “He was allergic to it,” his daughter said. “But he loved tinkering around, doing research.”
In addition to his daughter and Felsenstein, Kahn is survived by a son, Bruce, his brother Marcel, and grandchildren Nathan and Emma. Services were held.
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