George Hoyt Whipple Biography (1878-1976)


George Whipple was born on August 28, 1878, in Ashland, New Hampshire, the son of Frances Anna Hoyt Whipple and Ashley Cooper Whipple, a general practitioner. At the age of fourteen Whipple entered Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, and enrolled at Yale College (now Yale University) as a premedicalstudent four years later. After graduating with high standing in 1900, Whipple spent a year teaching and coaching at Holbrook Military Academy in New York to earn money for medical studies, and in 1901 he entered Johns Hopkins University's School of Medicine.

When Whipple received his M.D. in 1905, he joined the Johns Hopkins staff asan assistant in pathology, working under the renowned pathologist William Henry Welch. It was as a 29-year-old assistant performing an autopsy on a missionary doctor that Whipple made his first notable medical contribution: he described a rare condition in the intestinal tissues, which has since come to becalled Whipple's disease. A year spent at a hospital in the Panama Canal Zoneled to further notable advances in malaria and tuberculosis research.

When he returned to Johns Hopkins in 1908, Whipple turned his attention to studies in liver damage and the way in which liver cells repair themselves. Studies with dogs led Whipple to realize the importance of bile, a substance manufactured in the liver by the breakdown of hemoglobin, a complex pigment in red corpuscles. Beginning his assistant professorship at Johns Hopkins in 1911, Whipple came to focus on the interrelationship of bile, hemoglobin, and theliver. In 1913, along with a talented medical student, Charles W. Hooper, Whipple was able to show that bile pigments could be produced outside of the liver, solely from the breakdown of hemoglobin in the blood. Using this experiment as a starting point, Whipple set a new course for his studies. Since bilepigments are formed from hemoglobin, Whipple reasoned that he should tacklethe question of hemoglobin itself, beginning with how it is manufactured. Itwas a fateful decision.

In 1914, Whipple accepted a position as director of the Hooper Foundation forMedical Research at the University of California in San Francisco. In that same year he also married his long-time sweetheart, Katharine Ball Waring, andthe couple moved to California. His assistant, Hooper, also came with him toCalifornia and together with a new assistant, Frieda Robscheit-Robbins, theybegan experiments which would lead to a major breakthrough. By systematically bleeding laboratory dogs, Whipple and his team were able to induce a controlled anemic condition. They then tested various foods and their effects uponhemoglobin regeneration, finding that a diet of liver produced a pronounced increase in hemoglobin regeneration. While such short term effects were encouraging, they were still far from conclusive.

In 1920 Whipple was named dean of the University of California Medical School. However, he remained in California for just a year after before accepting asimilar position at a new medical complex at the University of Rochester inNew York. In his new position, Whipple directed the building and staffing ofthe University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, all the while directing further hemoglobin research. In 1925, Whipple and Robscheit-Robbinswere able to prove conclusively that a liver diet was successful in counteracting its effects by increasing the production of hemoglobin, and his resultswere published. With Whipple's cooperation, the pharmaceutical firm of Eli Lilly began producing a commercially available liver extract within a year. Whipple refused to patent his findings, and directed all royalties from the sales of the extract to fund additional research. Whipple's experiments paved theway for further studies by two Boston researches, George Richards Minot andWilliam P. Murphy, who used liver therapy to successfully treat pernicious anemia in 1926.

In 1934, Whipple, along with Minot and Murphy, was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for their separate work in liver therapy. After receiving the prize, Whipple continued his hemoglobin experiments, turning now tothe study of iron in the body and utilizing the new technology of radioisotope elements to follow the distribution of iron in the body. He also made important contributions to the study of an anemic disorder peculiar to people ofMediterranean extraction, a disorder for which Whipple suggested the name thalassemia.

Whipple never forgot his students, and took real pleasure in teaching. When in later years he was offered the position of Director of the Rockefeller Institute, he politely but adamantly declined, preferring his classes and his research. Whipple finally relinquished his chair as dean in 1953 at the age of 75, but remained on the faculty of the University of Rochester, teaching pathology until 1955. In 1963 he established a medical and dental library for theuniversity valued at $750,000.

Whipple's life was long and productive. He was an active outdoorsman well into his ninth decade. With his wife Katharine, he had two children: a son, Hoyt, who followed in the Whipple tradition of medicine, and a daughter, Barbara.He died in Rochester on February 1, 1976, in the hospital he had helped to build.

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