AOCS Award in Lipid Chemistry

The AOCS-Supelco Research Award  - Part Two: 1982 to 1996

The history of the AOCS Award in Lipid Chemistry (1964-1981) is described in Part One. In 1982 Supelco assumed sponsorship and the award became the AOCS-Supelco Research Award. Part Two covers the accomplishments of the awardees from 1982-1996.

 

The Awardees

Kritchevsky-pic.jpgDavid Kritchevsky (1920-2006). The 1996 recipient was born in Russia but came to the United States in 1923 as a small boy. Kritchevsky received his BS and MS degrees from the University of Chicago (1939-1942). He came from poor parents and decided to get a job rather than continue graduate studies. From 1940-1946 he worked at Ninol Laboratories in Chicago and subsequently received his PhD from Northwestern University. Kritchevsky was fortunate to work with several Nobel laureates and became interested in cholesterol metabolism. From 1950-1957 he held positions at the radiation laboratory at the University of California and then at Lederle Laboratories. In 1957 he joined the Wistar Institute in Philadelphia where he remained until his death in 2006. A detailed account of his accomplishments can be found elsewhere on this website here. His publications on lipid nutrition number 420 and have received over 10,000 citations. Although he could not read music he played the piano by ear and composed songs to teach students the Krebs cycle to the tune of “Tiptoe through the Tulips” as well as many others. These songs were published by AOCS press in 2003 (“Parodies and Commentaries”).

Kritchevsky received numerous honors and awards including the Alton E. Bailey Award from the North Central AOCS Section. He and his wife flew from Philadelphia to Chicago, where upon he was given a motorized scooter so that he could get to the dinner and back to the airport for his outgoing flight. Without notes or a prepared speech he gave his address from the scooter and held the audience with rapt attention for nearly an hour recalling his long and distinguished career in lipids. The American Society of Nutrition presented him with the inaugural David Kritchevsky Lifetime Achievement Award now bearing his name. The American Heart Association followed suit with The David Kritchevsky Memorial Lecture presented at their annual meeting.

 

OBrien-pic.jpgJohn O’Brien (1934-2001). The 1995 recipient will be remembered for his pioneering research in identifying the gene responsible for Tay-Sachs disease a rare but fatal disorder in infants. O’Brien did undergraduate work at Loyola University in Los Angeles followed by a Master’s Degree in physiology at Creighton University in Omaha. He received his MD degree from the same school in 1960. After a two year research fellowship he joined the faculty of the University of Southern California. By 1968, O’Brien took a position at the University of California (San Diego) and became full Professor shortly thereafter. He headed the neuroscience department from 1970-1978.

O’Brien’s research focused on “storage diseases” which are characterized by a build-up in cells of materials that are normally broken down and metabolized by the body. However, if these toxic substances accumulate, normal functions are prevented and can lead to early death. Tay-Sachs is such a disease in which harmful quantities of ganglioside GM2 accumulate in the nerve cells in the brain and other tissues. First identified in 1880, Tay-Sachs causes progressive mental deterioration, blindness, paralysis, seizures, and death in children before the age of 5.

In 1969, O’Brien published several papers explaining the hereditary nature of Tay-Sachs which certain parents are at most risk in passing defective genes to the infant. He also pointed out that each parent must contribute the defective gene. In addition to identifying the defective gene, O’Brien developed screening tests for parents at risk for passing Tay-Sachs to their offspring. Jewish parents from Central/Eastern Europe, French Canadians, Cajuns in Louisiana, and Amish are at high risk. In areas where screening and education are used the incidence of Tay-Sachs has declined by 95%.

In addition, O’Brien was the first to discover and sequence a family of proteins known as prosapasins. These molecules aid in the regeneration for nerve cells. One such compound entered clinical trials for diabetes patients with sensory neuropathy.

O’Brien was a pioneer in developing technology transfer activities between university and industry. He founded the Myelos Neuroscience Corporation which served as a model for developing ties between universities and industry to expedite research findings for the development of treatments for disease. He passed away at the age of 66 from post polio complications.

 

RTAckman.jpgRobert Ackman (Born 1927). The 1994 recipient is an international authority on marine lipids. He received his BSc and MSc degrees from The University of Toronto and Dalhousie University, both in his native home of Canada. He was awarded his PhD by the University of London. All of his training was in organic chemistry. In 1950, Dr Ackman began his long career in lipids at the world famous Halifax Laboratory of the Fisheries Research Board of Canada. He was instrumental in establishment of the Canadian Institute of Fisheries in 1979, and later (1997) helped form the department of Food Science at Dalhousie University.

Ackman pioneered the use of capillary gas liquid chromatography for the study of marine lipids and their biochemistry. The methods he developed for the analysis of omega-3 fatty acids derived from marine organisms are used worldwide in other research laboratories. His research has encompassed the nutritional properties of farmed raised salmon and he developed technologies to utilize fish meal and silage lipids for value-added products. Oil spills are detrimental to the flavor of salmon and other sea foods. His laboratory has developed methods for improved removal of petroleum hydrocarbons from fish muscle tissue.

Ackman pioneered the correlation and fatty acid profiles of a large number of marine animals and plants. He is the editor of a definitive book on marine lipids (Marine Biogenic Lipids, CRC Press) and he is the author of over 550 publications. Amongst other awards, he gave the H.P. Kaufmann Lecture of the ISF. His work on omega-3 acids fostered development of fish oil in capsule form, and his analytical methods are the foundation of standard AOCS and AOAC official methods.

 

wakil.jpgSalih J. Wakil (Born 1927). The 1993 recipient was born in Iraq and worked with his father in a shoe shop. After scoring highly in an examination, he was given the chance to study at the American University of Beirut. After graduating in 1948 with a BSc in chemistry, he emigrated to the United States and, in 1952, received his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Washington. His post doctoral began as a research associate at the University of Wisconsin where he became an Associate Professor in 1956. In 1959, Wakil joined the Department of Biochemistry at the Duke School of Medicine and eventually became full Professor. After 12 years, Wakil left Duke to become Professor and Chairman of the Verna and Marrs Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the Baylor School of Medicine in Houston, Texas where he is currently located. He authored over 200 publications in prestigious journals and received numerous honors and awards for his research, including election to the National Academy of Science (1990). Wakil’s discoveries have made seminal contributions to our knowledge about fatty acid synthase and of the role of fatty acids in energy metabolism and cell function. Early in his career while at Wisconsin, he conducted classic experiments that led to the finding that fatty acids are synthesized by a pathway distinct from the reverse of their oxidation. While at Duke, Wakil identified individual enzymes forming the pathways for fatty acid synthesis in Escherichia coli. He also did much to elucidate the role of malonyl-CoA and the nature of acetyl-CoA carboxylase.

At Baylor he made a landmark discovery of the multifunctional enzyme fatty acid synthase, which dispelled a long-held concept linking individual genes to the production of single enzymes. His most recent work has focused on mammalian, acetyl CoA carboxylase, which occurs in two forms (ACC1and ACC2). The development of drugs to inhibit ACC2 may hopefully help in the treatment of type 2 diabetes. In presenting the Bristol Myers Squib Metabolic Research Award to Wakil in 2005, Dr. Simeon Taylor commented, “Dr Wakil’s critical insights have unraveled many of the secrets of fat metabolism in man. At a time when the developed world is facing an obesity epidemic that threatens to markedly increase the rates of heart disease and type 2 diabetes, his discoveries continue to point us in new and important directions leading to new targets for drugs that could eventually control obesity and diabetes.”

 

tappel-pic.jpgAlloys L. Tappel (Born 1926). The 1992 recipient received his BS degree from Iowa State University in 1948. From 1944-1946 he was an ensign in the US Naval Reserve. In 1951, he received his PhD in biochemistry from the University of Minnesota. After graduation, Tappel became an instructor in the Food Technology Department at the University of California and, by 1953, he was appointed to Assistant Professor, and eventually to full Professor, and finally to Emeritus status. Tappel conducted pioneering research on the peroxidation of lipids in vivo and its effects on cellular damage. He was the first to demonstrate that combinations of antioxidants are more effective in preventing peroxidation than each acting alone. A wide spectrum of blended compounds offers twice as much protection as single antioxidants. The synergistic effect provides anti-cancer functions. In 1970, a study based on Tappel’s synergism work showed that certain combinations of antioxidants extended the average life span of laboratory animals up to 30% and in studies designed to accelerate the aging process a 175% increase in life spans was observed.

In accepting the 1995 AOCS Bailey Award, Tappel suggested that computer modelling of in vivo peroxidation data would be valuable in designing antioxidant systems to prevent cell damage. Over his career Tappel published extensively. His publications total over 525 and have been cited nearly 24,000 times and 25 have received over 200 citations each. Tappel’s “Lipid peroxidation damage to cell components” (Fed. Proc., 32, 1870-1874), published in 1973, continues to be highly cited (1075 citations).

 

Fred Mattson (1918-1997). The 1991 recipient received his BSc degree from Loyola (California) in 1940 and by 1948 finished his graduate work (MSc, PhD biochemistry) from Southern California. From 1948 until 1979 Mattson worked at Proctor and Gamble. He then began a second career as Professor of Medicine and Director of the Lipid Research Clinic at the University of California (San Diego). At Proctor and Gamble, his research focused on the digestive properties of fats and oil. Together with Dr. Robert Volpenhein, he sought to define how enzymes act in the digestive process. They found that pancreatic lipase hydrolyzes fatty acids in the 1/3 positions leaving the middle position unchanged. This discovery (1956), coupled with gas chromatography, stimulated interest in triglyceride structure. By hydrolyzing a triacylglycerol with lipase, isolating the 2-acylglycerols, and determining the fatty acid compositions of the whole fat or oil and of the 2-acylglycerols, more information about the glyceride structure can be revealed.

During their studies they noticed that some fat-like compounds are not cleaved during digestion and pass through the body into the stool. The result lead to the invention of OlestraTM patented in 1976 and test marketed as OleanTM, a fat substitute. After many years of extensive testing, the Food and Drug Administration deemed the product safe for snack foods only. However, consumer groups claimed some consumers may be allergic and or suffer cramps and diarrhoea, though most suffered no side effects. From about 1980, Mattson lead a team that produced the first clear cut evidence that lowering blood cholesterol levels reduces the risk of heart attacks. Mattson also produced data showing substitution of highly monounsaturated fats (olive oil) for saturated dietary fat decreases the LDL (bad cholesterol) levels without decreasing the HDL levels. Such research is still topical today.

 

RodolfoBrenner.jpgRodolfo Brenner (Born 1922). The 1990 recipient received his PhD from the University of Buenos Aires in 1946. From 1945-1955, Brenner was a Fellow of the British Council. In 1956 he began a long association with UNLP (University of La Planta) as Professor lasting until 1988. In the interim he held positions within the Physiology Institute at UNLP. In 1982 Brenner founded and became director of The Institute of Biochemical Research at La Planta remaining until 2003.

Brenner will be remembered for his numerous discoveries in the biosynthesis of polyunsaturated fatty acids. Brenner did the seminal studies on the desaturation of essential precursors forming highly unsaturated fatty acids. Brenner considered this work as the high point in his career. He also was the first to investigate the hormonal regulation of desaturase enzymes and abnormalities in fatty acid metabolism occurring in diseases. His peers remarked that Brenner’s accomplishments are even more significant because of limited resources in his native Argentina; lack of funds to purchase equipment and limited laboratory space were difficult to overcome. In order to conduct studies with electron spin resonance, Brenner sent a colleague to Brazil where the work was finished. Brenner published over 300 papers in national/international journals and presented over 400 lectures in the US Europe and Asia. He received numerous honors/awards. Dr. Ralph Holman considered professor Brenner an international leader in his field. In supporting Brenner for the Supelco Award, Randall Wood commented, “I am most envious and astounded by how much one can accomplish with limited resources. Brenner’s work sparks a bit of ire toward those who remark they haven’t accomplished much because they don’t have the latest gadget”.

 

MatsHamberg.jpgMats Hamberg (Born 1944), the 1989 recipient, is known for his discovery of the class of eicosanoids known as thromboxanes which play an important role in blood clotting. In the mid 1970’s Hamberg and his colleagues published a series of papers in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences detailing the structure and mechanism by which prostaglandin endoperoxides derived from arachidonic acid cause platelet aggregation. During his long career at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, Hamberg’s research encompassed animal lipoxygenase as well as prostaglandin endoperoxides and the aforementioned thromboxanes. He coined the term oxylipins to describe oxygenated fatty acid derivatives formed by mono- or dioxygenase oxygenation of the substrates. Fatty acid hydroperoxides are one important group of oxylipins formed by lipoxygenases and alpha-dioxygenases. Further metabolism of hydroperoxides was shown to give rise to jasmonates in plants. His most recent research focuses on the study of oxylipins in plants and lower animals, as well as the development of new methods for their synthesis and analysis.

Since 1997 Hamberg has been Professor of Medicinal Chemistry at the Karolinska Institute. Three of his publications from the thromboxane studies are highly cited having received over 5600 citations and his top 10 have nearly 9200. Twenty have received over 200 citations each.

 

bloch-pic.jpgKonrad Bloch (1912-2000), the 1988 recipient, together with Feodor Lynen, was awarded the Nobel prize in medicine in 1964 for his work on the biosynthesis of cholesterol. Bloch was born in Germany of Jewish parents and, by 1934, racial tensions forced him to leave Munich for Switzerland where he received his first exposure to biochemical research. His first assignment involved the phospholipids of tubercle bacilli. By 1936, Bloch was able to emigrate to the United States as he had long hoped for. With support from the Wallerstein Foundation, he entered the Department of Biochemistry, College of Physicians and Surgeons, Columbia University and received his PhD in 1938 under Hans Clarke. The Head of Department was Rudolph Schoenheimer, who pioneered the use of stable isotopes to study metabolism. It was Schoenheimer who invited Bloch to stay on at Colombia after his Ph.D., which led to a collaboration with David Rittenberg. Bloch and Rittenberg worked on the biosynthesis of cholesterol (using stable isotopes), which was to occupy his interest for two decades.

In 1946, Bloch moved to the University of Chicago as an Assistant Professor of Biochemistry and was promoted to full Professor in 1950. At Chicago, Bloch and his graduate students continued the work on cholesterol biosynthesis as well as the enzymatic preparation of the tripeptide, glutathione. In 1953, he undertook a sabbatical as a Guggenheim Fellow in Zurich where he collaborated with L. Ruzicka and colleagues. At the time, the Swiss were investigating terpene-sterol relationships which provided inspiration for work in his own laboratory after his return.

In 1954 Bloch was appointed Higgins Professor of Biochemistry, in the Chemistry Department at Harvard University. By 1968, he was Chairman of the department. He continued his interest in terpene and sterol biogenesis but became interested in the enzymatic formation of fatty acids and the biochemical aspects of evolution. In addition to the Nobel Prize, Bloch received numerous awards and honorary degrees from six national/international universities. He was also elected to the National Academy of Sciences of the USA. He has published a personal account of his research work (Bloch, K. Summing up. Ann. Rev. Biochem., 56, 1-18 (1987); DOI: 10.1146/annurev.bi.56.070187.000245).

 

AABenson-pic.jpgAndrew Benson (Born 1917), the 1987 recipient, grew up in California and graduated from the University of California with BS and MS degrees. He received his PhD from the California Institute of Technology in 1942. Benson returned to Berkley as an instructor, but in May, 1946 he was invited to join Melvin Calvin’s group who were working on photosynthesis in Berkley’s radiation laboratory. From 1952-1953, Benson received a Fulbright Scholarship where he studied at the Norwegian College of Agriculture, then from 1954-1962 he occupied a faculty position at Pennsylvania State University. From 1962 until his retirement in 1989, Benson was Professor of Biology at the University of California, San Diego Scripts Institute of Oceanography. While at Scripts he worked on a host of interesting lipids including the plant sulfolipid as well as arseno-lipids in marine organisms.

From 1946-1952 Benson, together with Calvin and James Bassam, elucidated the path of carbon assimilation in plants (photosynthetic carbon reduction cycle). The carbon reduction cycle is often known as the Calvin cycle, which controversially ignores the contribution of Bassam and Benson. An article in the McGill Journal of Medicine stated “It would be unfair of us to talk of the Calvin cycle and credit its discovery to Melvin Calvin without at least giving a passing nod to Andrew Benson who did a considerable portion of the work while on Calvin’s team”. This is arguably an understatement and others refer to the cycle as the Benson-Calvin or the Calvin-Benson-Bassam (CBB) cycle.

Nonetheless, the scientific community has recognized Benson’s many achievements. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1972. The US Department of Energy awarded him the Ernst Orlando Lawrence Award for his work on using radioisotopes to understand the carbon cycle. Other awards include The Sugar Research Foundation Award (1950) and the Stephen Hales Prize American Society of Plant Biologists (1972) for discovery of ribulose as a product of the carbon cycle.

In 2007 on the occasion of his 90th birthday a special issue of “Photosynthesis Research” was dedicated to his honor. The Russian Journal of Marine Biology further stated, “On the 90th anniversary of Andrew Alm Benson, great scientist and excellent man.” Benson has himself provided an in-depth introspective on his life and career (Benson, A.A. Paving the path. Ann. Rev. Plant Biol., 53, 1-25 (2002); DOI: 10.1146/annurev.arplant.53.091201.142547).

 

allen-pic.jpgRobert R. Allen (1920-2001). The 1986 recipient was affectionately known as “Mr. Hydrogenation” by his friends and peers alike and for good reason. Aside from A. E. Bailey who first described the kinetics and mechanism of the reaction, Allen contributed more to our understanding of hydrogenation than anyone else. In fact, Allen’s work provided the only revision of Bailey’s mechanism, explaining the isomerization of double bonds from cis to trans.

Allen was born in Kansas and was educated at Kansas State University where he received BS, MS, and PhD degrees. In 1950 Allen took a chemists position at Armour and Company in Chicago. His initial research was directed at the use of animal fats in oleochemical applications and he received several patents on the separation of mono and dicarboxylic acids and a continuous process for producing fatty acid methyl esters as feed stocks for the preparation of food emulsifiers. He began his research on hydrogenation in 1953, when an article appeared in JAOCS describing the migration of double bonds during hydrogenation of fatty esters. Migration of the double bonds toward the carboxyl group was restricted and appeared to favor the methyl end and his initial results were published in 1955. Hydrogenation of pure oleic acid yielded not only stearic but mixtures of cis and trans monoenes, but the double bonds migrate in equal directions from the original 9,10 position. Subsequent work provided insight to the complex reaction of linoleic acid during hydrogenation. About half of the double bonds are conjugated before hydrogenation occurs such that the same distribution of monoenes occurs as observed experimentally. Allen was the first to study the relative reaction rates of cis positional isomers. Hydrogenation of a mixture of cis 6-, 9- and 12-octadecenoates gave the same products in the same proportions indicating that positional isomers hydrogenate at the same rate.

After moving to Anderson Clayton, Allen’s research shifted to more practical problems. Armed with a gas chromatograph, a computer and a mathematician/statistician, Allen began catalyst evaluations using response surface analysis. In order to evaluate the effects of 4 parameters (time, temperature, pressure and agitation), 31 separate hydrogenations were required. His assistant, Jesse Covey, ran the hydrogenations and performed the 100 analyses required to finish the project. In the mid 1960’s, soft margarines were introduced to the marketplace with emphasis on increasing essential fatty acids. Allen did most of the research bringing ChiffonTM soft margarine to the marketplace and it remained a popular brand for many years. A large part of the success stemmed from his work on margarine flavoring compounds and the anti-browning properties when margarines are used in frying operations of which both were patented. Allen also held patents on improved shortenings.

Allen once remarked that we know more about the surface of Saturn than what happens on a catalyst surface during hydrogenation of edible oils. Nonetheless, his work has shed much light on these events. Allen served as AOCS President in 1971.

 

samuelsson.jpgBengt Samuelsson (1934) (1985 recipient) will always be remembered for his work on prostaglandins. He, along with Sune Bergstrom (1967 recipient) and John Vane, shared the 1982 Nobel Prize in Medicine/Physiology. He completed his parallel studies in biochemistry and medicine at Lund University (1960) and the Karolinska Institute (1961) in Stockholm. After a year of study at Harvard as a research fellow, he returned to the Karolinska Institute. In 1967 he was appointed Professor of Medical Chemistry at the Royal Veterinary College in Stockholm. In the early 1970’s, Samuelsson returned to the Karolinska institute, where he held positions as Professor and Chair of the Department of Chemistry as well as Dean of the Medical Faculty. From 1983-1995 he served as rector of the Institute.

His original research interest was on cholesterol metabolism with emphasis on reaction mechanisms. In collaboration with Sune Bergstrom, the structure of prostaglandins was elucidated. Later, his research shifted to the transformation products of arachidonic acid leading to the discovery of endoperoxides, thromboxanes and the leukotrienes. His group continued to study the chemistry, biochemistry and biology of these compounds and their role in biological control systems. Their work has resulted in numerous citations in the literature with the top five having over 10,000 citations and over 15,000 for the top 10. He has published a personal account based on his research work (Samuelsson, B. Role of basic science in the development of new medicines: examples from the eicosanoid field. J. Biol. Chem., 287, 10070-10080 (2012); DOI: 10.1074/jbc.X112.351437).

 

kates.jpgMorris Kates (1923-2013), the 1984 recipient, was born in Romania and, shortly thereafter, came to Canada with his parents who settled in Toronto. At an early age, he began violin lessons and, by the age of 16, was composing music. While in high school, he developed an interest in science. After entering the University of Toronto, he studied physics, chemistry and biochemistry, but continued his interest in music as a hobby. He entered graduate school at the University of Toronto and had the good fortune to have Erich Baer (1964 recipient) as his major professor.

After receiving his PhD, Kates continued research on the synthesis of L-phosphatidylcholine and dialkylglycerol ethers. Kates is also known for his research on lipases, phospholipases and acylhydrolases. Later, in his career he investigated the lipids of halophilic bacteria and derived lipids. He demonstrated the existence of fatty acid desaturases that used complex lipid substrates. Kates also showed that some so-called bacteria were not in fact bacteria (now considered part of the Archaea) as their lipids were synthesized by an unusual and unexpected pathway. Kates considered this a highlight of his scientific career and also remarked that a long-time goal was to receive the Supelco Award like his mentor Erich Baer some 20 years before. Kates was an international authority on lipid analysis. His book ‘Techniques of Lipidology: Isolation, Analysis and Identification of Lipids’ (1972, revised in 1986 and again in 2010) is considered a classic reference book for biochemists and is highly cited in the literature.

After his 50 year career, he became an Emeritus Professor at the University of Ottawa, where he has spent his entire professional life. Kates has never lost his love of music, both as a pianist and as a composer, and guests at his home were sometimes encouraged to have a sing-song around his piano!

 

David van Dorp (1915-1995), the 1983 recipient, grew up in Holland and, since he was one of the youngest of 9 children, he was allowed to go to school, while the older siblings worked in the family spice business. In later years, he recalled that he couldn’t explain why he was directed towards science other than good grades in the exact sciences. At the time he received his doctorate (1941), Europe was deeply involved in World War II and the need for pharmaceutical research was great. Thus his first job involved work on Vitamin A and its analogs. In 1947, van Dorp and Arens reported the synthesis of vitamin A and its acid. Van Dorp’s career in the pharmaceutical industry came to an abrupt halt when, in his own words, he fired himself because reorganization within the company would have taken away his freedom and authority to do research. Thus, after 20 years in the drug business he took a position at Unilever, where he was given the chance to form his own research group.

They began by synthesizing a number of fatty acids including radioactive arachidonic acid. According to van Dorp, the U-shaped structure proposed by Ralph Holman suggested that arachidonic acid might be involved in prostaglandin synthesis by a ring closure mechanism, which van Dorp’s subsequent work proved to be correct. Apparently, van Dorp and Sune Bergstrom’s groups began research on the precursors of the prostaglandins and published their results at about the same time. Although Bergstrom, Samulesson, and Vane were awarded the Nobel prize (1982), some believed that as van Dorp had supplied Bergstrom with the tagged arachidonic acid he did not receive due credit for his contributions. Both groups showed that arachidonic acid was the precursor of the prostaglandins.

 

RexDawson-pic.gifRex Malcolm Chaplin Dawson (1924) was the 1982 Recipient. He was educated at Hinckley Grammar School followed by University College, London where he was awarded his BSc in 1946. A Medical Research Council Fellowship was followed by a Beit Memorial Fellowship in the Neuropsychiatric Research Centre, Whitchurch Hospital, Cardiff from 1947 to 1952 enabled him to obtain his PhD in the University of Wales in 1951 under the supervision of Derek Richter. He was appointed to a Betty Brookes Fellowship in the Department of Biochemistry in the University of Oxford from 1952 to 1955. He joined the staff of the Institute of Animal Physiology, Babraham, Cambridge in 1955 and remained there until his retirement in 1984. He was appointed Head of the Department of Biochemistry and Deputy Director of the Institute in 1969. Amongst many honours, he was a Visiting Research Fellow in Harvard University in 1959, and was appointed Visiting Professor in Northwestern University, Chicago in 1974. He was awarded his DSc in 1960 and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1981. The book ‘Metabolism and Physiological Significance of Lipids’ of which he was a co-author, published in 1964, was a classic in its time, as was ‘Form and Function of Phospholipids’ (1973) which he co-edited with Ansell and Hawthorne.

His main research interest was the structure, turnover and role of phospholipids in cell membranes, and he published very many papers in this area. In particular, he was one of the pioneers of research into the biochemistry of phosphatidylinositol and its many metabolites. One of his earliest contributions to this field was his invention in 1954 of a way of separating all the major glycerophospholipid backbones in a two-dimensional system, which was crucial to the Hokin’s discovery of specific phosphoinositide turnover and indeed his was the first demonstration of the uniqueness of this phenomenon. He co-discovered phospholipase C (PLC) and the crucial lipid phosphatidylinositol 4,5-bisphosphate, and demonstrated the difference between Ca2+-regulated PLC and Mg2+-regulated phosphatase hydrolysis of PtdIns(4,5)P2. He also co-discovered phospholipid exchange proteins, and in a classic series of papers in the 1960s with Alec Bangham laid the foundations for the concept of the importance of physicochemical substrate presentation in regulating phospholipase activity.

 

In 1997, the AOCS Award in Lipid Chemistry was renamed the AOCS Supelco/Nicholas Pelick Research Award. Part 3 of this series covers the history from 1997 onwards.

Acknowledgement: John Harwood and Bill Christie contributed to the above pen pictures of the awardees.