John Jacob Abel


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(1857–1938) American biochemist

Abel was born in Cleveland, Ohio, the son of a farmer. He was educated at the University of Michigan and Johns Hopkins University. He spent the years 1884–90 in Europe studying at Leipzig, Heidelberg, Würzburg, Vienna, Bern, and Strasbourg, where he gained an MD in 1888. On his return to America he worked briefly at the University of Michigan before being appointed in 1893 to the first chair of pharmacology at Johns Hopkins, a post he retained until his retirement in 1932.

Abel approached biology with a first-rate training in chemistry and with the conviction that the study of molecules and atoms was as important as the observation of multicellular tissues under the microscope. He thus began by working on the chemical composition of various bodily tissues and fluids and, in 1897, succeeded in isolating a physiologically active substance from the adrenal glands, named by him epinephrine, also known as adrenalin. This extract was actually the monobenzoyl derivative of the hormone. It was left to Jokichi Takamine to purify it in 1900.

As early as 1912 Abel clearly formulated the idea of an artificial kidney and in 1914 isolated for the first time amino acids from the blood. He was less successful with his search (1917–24) for the pituitary hormone, being unaware that he was dealing with not one but several hormones. His announcement in 1926, that he had crystallized insulin met with considerable skepticism, especially regarding its protein nature. This work was not generally accepted until the mid 1930s.

After his retirement Abel devoted himself to a study of the tetanus toxin.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

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