Andrew V. Schally Biography (1926-)


Andrew V. Schally helped conduct pioneering research concerning hormones, identifying three brain hormones and greatly advancing scientists' understandingof the function and interaction of the brain with the rest of the body. Hisfindings have proved useful in the treatment of diabetes and peptic ulcers, and in the diagnosis and treatment of hormone-deficiency diseases. Schally shared the 1977 Nobel Prize with French-born American endocrinologist Roger Guillemin and Rosalyn Yalow (an American scientist whose work in the discovery and development of radioimmunoassay , the use of radioactive substances to findand measure minute substances--especially hormones--in blood and tissue, helped Schally and Guillemin isolate and analyze peptide hormones).

Andrew Victor Schally was born on November 30, 1926, in Wilno, Poland, to Casimir Peter Schally and Maria Lacka Schally. His father served in the militaryon the side of the Allies during World War II, and Schally grew up during Nazi occupation of his homeland. The family later left Poland and immigrated toScotland, where Schally entered the Bridge Allen School in Scotland. He studied chemistry at the University of London and obtained his first research position at London's highly regarded National Institute for Medical Research. Leaving London for Montreal, Canada, in 1952, Schally entered McGill University, where he studied endocrinology and conducted research on the adrenal and pituitary glands. He obtained his doctorate in biochemistry from McGill in 1957. Also in 1957, Schally became an assistant professor of physiology at BaylorUniversity School of Medicine in Houston, Texas. There he was able to pursuehis interest in the hormones produced by the hypothalamus.

Scientists had long thought that the hypothalamus, a part of the brain located just above the pituitary gland, regulated the endocrine system, which includes the pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands, the pancreas, and the ovariesand testicles. They were, however, unsure of the way in which hypothalamic hormonal regulation occurred. In the 1930s British anatomist Geoffrey W. Harristheorized that hypothalamic regulation occurred by means of hormones , chemical substances secreted by glands and transported by the blood. Harris was able to support his hypothesis by conducting experiments that demonstrated altered pituitary function when the blood vessels between the hypothalamus and the pituitary were cut. Harris and others were unable to isolate or identify the hormones from the hypothalamus.

Schally devoted his work to identifying these hormones. He and Roger Guillemin, who also worked at Baylor University's School of Medicine, were engaged inresearch to unmask the chemical structure of corticotropin-releasing hormone(CRH). Their efforts, however, were unsuccessful--the structure was not determined until 1981. The two then focused their work, independently, on other hormones of the hypothalamus. Schally left Baylor in 1962, when he became director of the Endocrine and Polypeptide Laboratory at the Veterans Administration (VA) Hospital in New Orleans, Louisiana. Also that year, Schally became aU.S. citizen and took on the post of assistant professor of medicine at Tulane University Medical School.

Schally's first breakthrough came in 1966 when he and his research group isolated TRH, or thyrotropin-releasing hormone. In 1969 Schally and his VA team demonstrated that TRH is a peptide containing three amino acids. It was Guillemin, though, who first determined TRH's chemical structure. The success of this research made it possible to decipher the function of a second hormone, called luteinizing-hormone releasing factor (LHRH). Identified in 1971, LHRH isa decapeptide and controls reproductive functions in both males and females.The chemical makeup of the growth-releasing hormone (GRH) was also discovered by Schally's team in 1971. Schally was able to show that GRH, a peptide consisting of ten amino acids, causes the release of gonadotropins from the pituitary gland. These gonadotropins, in turn, cause male and female sex hormonesto be released from the testicles and ovaries. In conjunction with this, Schally was able to identify a factor that inhibits the release of GRH in 1976.Guillemin, however, had determined its structure earlier and named it somatostatin. Subsequent studies by Schally showed that somatostatin serves multipleroles, some of which relate to insulin production and growth disorders. Thisled to speculation that the hormone could be useful for treating diabetes and acromegaly, a growth-disorder disease.

The hormone research done by Schally and his colleagues was tedious and expensive. Thousands of sheep and pig hypothalami were required to extract the smallest amount of hormone. These organs were solicited from many area slaughterhouses and required immediate dissection to prevent the hormones from degrading. Their accomplishment of isolating the first milligram of pure thyrotropin-releasing hormone, Guillemin stated, cost many times more than the NASA space mission that brought a kilogram of moon rock back to earth.

Schally's intense years of hard work and accomplishment were capped by the Nobel Prize, but he has also received many other awards and honors. In 1974 hewas given the Charles Mickle Award of the University of Toronto, and the Gairdner Foundation International Award. He received the Borden Award in the Medical Sciences of the Association of American Medical Colleges in 1975 and, that same year, the Lasker Award and the Laude Award. He has held memberships inthe National Academy of Sciences, the American Society of Biological Chemists, the American Physiology Society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the Endocrine Society. In the years prior to receiving the Nobel Prize, Schally and his colleagues published more than 850 papers. Married to Brazilian endocrinologist, Ana Maria de Medeiros-Comaru, Schally often lectures in Latin America and Spain. He and his first wife, Margaret RachelWhite, have two children.

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