St. Louis with the Coris

By Stollar, B. David | Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, January 1, 2014 | Go to article overview

St. Louis with the Coris


Stollar, B. David, Transactions of the American Philosophical Society


In the spring of 1938, when informed of the pending closure of Levene's department at the end of the year, Gerhard explored the possibilities for his next move. He knew nothing definitive could be arranged before he obtained his immigration visa, but he wrote letters. One was to Dr. Siegfried Thannhauser, Professor of Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine in Boston.1 Dr. Thannhauser had been Professor of Medicine in Freiburg, Germany, an established luminary in both clinical medicine and biochemistry; but, being Jewish, he was dismissed from his post by the Nazi regime in 1934. He arrived at the Pratt Diagnostic Clinic of the Boston Dispensary (which had become part of the New England Medical Center) and Tufts in 1935, and there established a biochemistry laboratory. Gerhard had been introduced to him while both were still in Germany, where Thannhauser had made important discoveries in nucleotide chemistry. Gerhard also wrote to Dr. Carl Cori at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, knowing that both Carl and Gerty Cori were interested in carbohydrate biochemistry, the field in which Gerhard's mentor, Gustav Embden, had made such important contributions.

Thannhauser sent an encouraging reply and invited Gerhard to visit Boston. With help from the Rockefeller Institute, which was supporting the job searches of people in Levene's lab, Gerhard travelled to Boston during the summer, an overnight trip by coastal steamer, through the Cape Cod Canal; it was the same kind of trip he had made in the other direction, to New York, after attending the International Congress of Physiology in Boston in 1929. Thannhauser offered him a research associate position, with a stipend of $2,500; but Gerhard's understanding was that if he had accepted, it would have required dismissal of a technician, Joe Penotti, then working with Thannhauser. That was an unattractive idea, especially at a time when it would have been difficult for Penotti to find a new job.

At about the same time, Gerhard received a positive response from Carl Cori as well, saying it was very likely that a position could be arranged in St. Louis, as long as Gerhard was still interested in carbohydrate biochemistry. It was not, in fact, a field in which Gerhard had worked since his early years with Embden, but he had been impressed by the recently published discovery, by the Coris, of glucose-1-phosphate, a product and precursor in glycogen metabolism,2 and he certainly had been interested in the varying sensitivity of different kinds of phosphate esters to hydrolysis by acid, base, or enzyme catalysis. There was, therefore, a scientific basis for accepting the offer from St. Louis, without the prospect of displacing another person. Late in the autumn of 1938 he moved to St. Louis.

Though he spent just over a year in St. Louis, he achieved and published significant scientific results and established long-lasting friendships. Like Gerhard, Carl and Gerty (Radnitz) Cori had European origins. Both were bom in Prague in 1896. Both earned their medical degrees where they met, at the medical college of the German University of Prague in 1920. They married and, after short stays in Vienna and Graz, moved to the United States in 1922, where Carl became biochemist at the State Institute for Studies of Malignant Disease-later renamed the Roswell Park Memorial Institute-in Buffalo, New York, and arranged a position for Gerty as assistant in pathology. They moved to St. Louis in 1931, when Carl became professor of pharmacology at Washington University, where he later served as professor and chairman of the Department of Biochemistry and where Gerty became a research associate. Carl and Gerty worked together in science, first on immunological studies of "complement" (a complex set of proteins in blood plasma that, together with specific antibodies, lead to destruction of foreign cells such as bacteria or blood cells and to inflammation) when they were still in Austria and, in the United States, on the effects of insulin and epinephrine on glucose metabolism, and then on the biochemistry of glycogen breakdown and formation. …

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