Edward A. Doisy Biography (1893-1986)


Edward Adelbert Doisy was an acclaimed biochemist whose contributions to research involved studying how chemical substances affected the body. In additionto research on antibiotics, insulin, and female hormones, he is notedfor his successful isolation of vitamin K, a substance that encourages bloodclotting. Because he was able to synthesize this substance, many thousands of lives are saved each year. For this research, Doisy shared the 1943 Nobel Prize in medicine or physiology with Danish scientist Henrik Dam.

Doisy, one of two children, was born November 13, 1893, in Hume, Illinois, toEdward Perez Doisy, a traveling salesman, and Ada (Alley) Doisy. Doisy received his baccalaureate degree in 1914 from the University of Illinois at Champaign and then obtained his master's in 1916. The advent of World War I interrupted his schooling for two years, during which time he served in the Army. After the war, Doisy received his Ph.D. from Harvard University Medical Schoolin 1920. Beginning in 1919 he rapidly rose through the academic ranks, achieving the position of associate professor of biochemistry in the Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis. He left this position in 1923 to go to the St. Louis University School of Medicine, and a year later he was appointed to the chair of biochemistry, where he engaged in research and teaching.He also was named the biochemist for St. Mary's Hospital. Doisy held these positions until his retirement in 1965.

For 12 years--from 1922 until 1934--Doisy worked with biologist Edgar Allen to study the ovarian systems of rats and mice. During this time he participated in research that isolated the first crystalline of a female steroidal hormone, now called oestrone. He later isolated two other related products, oestriol and oestradiol-17[b.beta ]. When Doisy administered these in tiny quantities to female mice or rats whose ovaries had been removed, the creatures actedas if they still had ovaries. Many women have benefitted from this research,as these compounds and their derivatives have been used to treat several hormonally-related problems, including menopausal symptoms.

Doisy, in 1936, turned from this line of research to trying to isolate an antihemorrhagic factor that had been identified by Danish researcher Henrik Dam.Dam had discovered a chemical in the blood of chicks that decreased hemorrhaging; he called this substance Koagulations Vitamine, or vitamin K. Using Dam's work as a springboard, Doisy and his co-workers spent three years researching this new vitamin. They discovered that the vitamin had two distinct forms, called K1 and K2, and successfully isolated each--K1 from alfalfa, K2 (which differs in a side chain) from rotten fish. Alter Doisy had isolatedthese two compounds he successfully determined their structures, and was ableto synthesize the extremely delicate vitamin K1.

Synthesizing vitamin K enabled large quantities of it to be produced relatively inexpensively. It has since been used to treat hemorrhages that would previously have been fatal, especially in newborns and other individuals who lacknatural defenses; it is estimated that the use of vitamin K saves almost 5,000 lives each year in the United States alone. For these research advances, Doisy shared the 1943 Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology with Dam. Some ofthis research was funded by the University of St. Louis and some of the funds were contributed by the pharmaceutical manufacturer Parke-Davis and Co.--afinancial arrangement that Doisy saw as a model for future industry-university research relations.

Over the course of his career, most of Doisy's research focused on how various chemical substances worked in the human body. In addition to vitamin K, histeam studying the effects of certain antibiotics, sodium, potassium, chloride, and phosphorus. He also developed a high-potency form of insulin, for usein treating diabetes.

Doisy was made St. Louis University's distinguished service professor in 1951, and later was named emeritus professor of biochemistry. As a sign of his contributions, the university's department of biochemistry was named in his honor in 1965, and he was made its emeritus director. Because of his prominenceand his loyalties to the University, there are numerous plaques and buildingsbearing his name.

Doisy's contributions to the field of biochemistry are recognized by the numerous honorary awards he held and the scientific societies to which he belonged. He was member of the League of Nations Committee on the Standardization ofSex Hormones from 1932 to 1935, and in 1938 was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. In 1941 he was honored with the Willard Gibbs Medal of the American Chemical Society, which is perhaps the highest distinction in chemical science. He served as both the vice president and then president, from 1943to 1945, of the American Society of Biological Chemists, and was the 29th president of the Endocrine Society in 1949. Doisy died October 23, 1986.

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