Abel, John Jacob

SUBJECT AREA: Medical technology
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b. 19 May 1857 near Cleveland, Ohio, USA
d. 26 May 1938 Baltimore, Maryland, USA
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American pharmacologist and physiologist, proponent of the "artificial kidney" and the isolator of pure insulin.
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Born of German immigrant farming stock, his early scientific education at the University of Michigan, where he graduated PhB in 1883, suffered from a financially dictated interregnum of three years. In 1884 he moved to Leipzig and worked under Ludwig, moving to Strasbourg where he obtained his MD in 1888. In 1891 he was able to return to the University of Michigan as Lecturer in Materia Medica and Therapeutics, and in 1893 he was offered the first Chair of Pharmacology at Johns Hopkins University, a position he occupied until 1932. He was a pioneer in emphasizing the importance of chemistry, in its widest sense, in medicine and physiology. In his view, "the investigator must associate himself with those who have laboured in fields where molecules and atoms rather than multi-cellular tissues or even unicellular organisms are the units of study".
Soon after coming to Baltimore he commenced work on extracts from the adrenal medulla and in 1899 published his work on epinephrine. In later years he developed an "artificial kidney" which could be used to remove diffusible substances from the blood. In 1913 he was able to demonstrate the existence of free amino-acids in the blood and his investigations in this field foreshadowed not only the developments of blood and plasma transfusion but also the possibility of the management of renal failure.
From 1917 to 1924 he moved to a study of the hormone content of pituitary extracts, but in 1924 he suddenly transferred his attention to the study of insulin. In 1925 he announced the discovery of pure crystalline hormone. This work at first failed to gain full acceptance, but as late as 1955 the full elucidation of the protein structure of insulin proved the final culmination of his studies.
Abel's dedication to laboratory research and his disdain for matters of administration may explain the relative paucity of worldy honours awarded to such an outstanding figure.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
FRS.
Bibliography
1913, "On the removal of diffusible substances from the circulating blood by means of dialysis", Transactions of the Association of American Physiologists.
Further Reading
1939, Obituary Notices, Fellows of the Royal Society, London: Royal Society.
1946, Biographical Memoir: John Jacob Abel. 1857–1938, Washington, DC: National Academy of Sciences.
MG

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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