Research on carbohydrate metabolism receives historical recognition

09/13/04

Research by Carl and Gerty Cori exploring how the human body metabolizes glucose will be designated a National Historic Chemical Landmark in a special ceremony at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis on Sept. 21. The American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society, sponsors the landmarks program.

Beginning in the 1920s, the Coris conducted a series of pioneering studies that led to the current understanding of the metabolism of sugars and which contributed to improved techniques to help control diabetes.

Charles P. Casey, Ph.D., president of the Society, will present a commemorative bronze plaque to Mark Wrighton, Ph.D., Chancellor of Washington University in St. Louis, where much of the Coris' work was conducted. Arthur Kornberg, winner of the 1959 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine and a colleague of the Coris in the 1950s, will give the annual Carl and Gerty Cori Lecture immediately following the Landmark award.

The American Chemical Society established the chemical landmarks program in 1992 to recognize seminal events in the history of chemistry and to increase public awareness of the contributions of chemistry to society.

Carl and Gerty Cori, who won the Nobel in Physiology or Medicine in 1947, observed what became known as the "Cori cycle," the process by which the body converts glucose into glycogen, the form in which sugar is stored. They isolated and purified many of the enzymes involved in glucose metabolism, and their work ultimately advanced scientific understanding of metabolic regulation.

Both Carl and Gerty Cori were born in Prague (then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire) in 1896. They met in Vienna while attending medical school and married in 1920. They immigrated to the United States in 1922 and then moved to St. Louis in 1931 when Carl Cori accepted the chairmanship of the pharmacology department at the Washington University School of Medicine while Gerty took a position as a researcher in the same department. In 1946 Carl became head of the school's Department of Biological Chemistry.

The Coris had a truly collaborative relationship. Carl Cori summed up the nature of their partnership in his remarks at the Nobel banquet in 1947: "Our collaboration began 30 years ago when we were still medical students at the University of Prague and has continued ever since. Our efforts have been largely complementary, and one without the other would not have gone as far as in combination."

Gerty Cori died in 1957. In 1960 Carl married Anne Fitzgerald-Jones and in 1966, after retiring from Washington University, was appointed a visiting professor at the Harvard Medical School. Carl Cori died in 1984.

The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization, chartered by the U.S. Congress, with a multidisciplinary membership of more than 159,000 chemists and chemical engineers. It publishes numerous scientific journals and databases, convenes major research conferences and provides educational, science policy and career programs in chemistry. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio

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