Bengt Samuelsson Biography (1934-)


Bengt Samuelsson shared the 1982 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine withhis compatriot Sune K. Bergström and British biochemist John R. Vane "for their discoveries concerningprostaglandins and related biologicallyactive substances." Because prostaglandins are involved in a diverserange of biochemical functions and processes, the research ofBergström, Samuelsson, and Vane opened up a new arena of medical research and pharmaceutical applications.

Bengt Ingemar Samuelsson was born on May 21, 1934, in Halmstad, Sweden, to Anders and Kristina Nilsson Samuelsson. Samuelsson entered medical school at the University of Lund, where he came under the mentorship of Sune K. Bergström. Called "the father of prostaglandin chemistry," Bergström was onthe university faculty as professor of physiological chemistry. In 1958, Samuelsson followed Bergström to the prestigious Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, which is associated with the Nobel Prize awards. There, Samuelsson received his doctorate in medical science in 1960 and his medical degree in 1961, and he was subsequently appointed as an assistant professor of medical chemistry. In1961, he served as a research fellow at Harvard University, and then in1962 he rejoined Bergström at the Karolinska Institute, where he remained until 1966.

At the Karolinska Institute, Samuelsson worked with a group of researchers who were trying to characterize the structures of prostaglandins. Prostaglandins are hormone-like substances found throughout the body, which were so namedin the 1930s onthe erroneous assumption that they originated in the prostate.They play an important role in the circulatory system, and they help protectthe body against sickness, infection, pain, and stress. Expanding on their earlier research, Bergström, Samuelsson, and other researchers discoveredthe role that arachidonic acid, an unsaturated fatty acid found in meats andvegetable oils, plays in the formation of prostaglandins. By developing synthetic methods of producing prostaglandins in the laboratory, this group madeprostaglandins accessible for scientific research world wide. It was Samuelsson who discovered the process through which arachidonic acid is converted into compounds he named endoperoxides, which are in turn converted into prostaglandins.

Prostaglandins have many veterinary and livestock breeding applications, andSamuelsson joined the faculty of the Royal Veterinary College in Stockholm in1967. He returned to the Karolinska Institute as professor of medicine and physiological chemistry in 1972. Samuelsson served as the chair of the department ofphysiological chemistry from 1973 to 1983, and as dean of the medical faculty from 1978 to 1983, combining administrative duties with a rigorous research schedule. During 1976 and 1977, Samuelsson also served as a visiting professor at Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

During these years, Samuelsson continued his investigation of prostaglandinsand related compounds. In 1973, he discovered the prostaglandins which are involved in the clotting of the blood; he called these thromboxanes. Samuelssonsubsequently discovered the compounds he called leukotrienes, which are found in white blood cells (or leukocytes). Leukotrienes are involved in asthma and in anaphylaxis, the shock or hypersensitivity that follows exposure to certain foreign substances, such as the toxins in an insect sting. In the wake of such research, prostaglandins have been used totreat fertility problems, circulatory problems, asthma, arthritis, menstrual cramps, and ulcers. Prostaglandins have also been used medically to induce abortions.

The importance of Samuelsson's research has been recognized by numerous awards and honors in addition to the Nobel Prize. Such acknowledgments include theA. Jahres Award in medicine from Oslo University in 1970; the Albert LaskerMedical Research Award in 1977; the Ciba-Geigy Drew Award for biomedical research in 1980; the Gairdner Foundation Award in 1981; and the Abraham White Distinguished Scientist Award in 1991. Samuelsson has published widely on the biochemistry of prostaglandins, thromboxanes, and leukotrienes.

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