12 January 1895|
Bhimavaram, Andhra Pradesh, India
|Died||9 August 1948New York, United States(aged 53)|
|Institutions||Lederle Laboratories, a division of American Cyanamid (Acquired by Wyeth in 1994, now Pfizer)|
|Alma mater||Harvard University|
Yellapragada Subbarao (Telugu: యెల్లాప్రగడ సుబ్బారావు) (12 January 1895 – 9 August 1948) was an Indian biochemist who discovered the function of adenosine triphosphate as an energy source in the cell, and developed methotrexate for the treatment of cancer. Most of his career was spent in the United States. Despite his isolation of ATP, Subbarao was denied tenure at Harvard and remained without a green card throughout his life, though he would lead some of America's most important medical research during World War II.
Early life and education
He was born to a Telugu Niyogi Brahmin family in Bhimavaram of the Old Madras Presidency, now in West Godavari District, Andhra Pradesh. He passed through a traumatic period in his schooling at Rajahmundry (due to the premature death of close relatives by disease) and eventually matriculated in his third attempt from the Hindu High School, Madras. He passed the Intermediate Examination from the Presidency College and entered the Madras Medical College where his education was supported by friends and Kasturi Suryanarayana Murthy, whose daughter he later married. Following Gandhi's call to boycott British goods he started wearing khadi surgical dress; this incurred the displeasure of M. C. Bradfield, his surgery professor. Consequently, though he did well in his written papers, he was awarded the lesser LMS certificate and not a full MBBS degree.
Subbarao tried to enter the Madras Medical Service without success. He then took up a job as Lecturer in Anatomy at Dr. Lakshmipathi's Ayurvedic College at Madras. He was fascinated by the healing powers of Ayurvedic medicines and began to engage in research to put Ayurveda on a modern footing.
A chance meeting with an American doctor, who was visiting on a Rockefeller Scholarship, changed his mind. The promise of support from Malladi Satyalingam Naicker Charities in Kakinada, and financial assistance raised by his father-in-law, enabled Subbarao to proceed to the U.S. He arrived in Boston on 26 October 1922.
Career in America
After earning a diploma from the Harvard Medical School he joined Harvard as a junior faculty member. With Cyrus Fiske, he developed a method for the estimation of phosphorus in body fluids and tissues. He discovered the role of phosphocreatine and adenosine triphosphate (ATP) in muscular activity, which earned him an entry into biochemistry textbooks in the 1930s. He obtained his Ph.D. degree the same year.
He joined Lederle Laboratories, a division of American Cyanamid (now a division of Wyeth which is owned by Pfizer), after he was denied a regular faculty position at Harvard. At Lederle, he developed a method to synthesize folic acid, Vitamin B9, based on work by Lucy Wills to isolate folic acid as a protective agent against anemia. After his work on folic acid and with considerable input from Dr. Sidney Farber, he developed the important anti-cancer drug methotrexate - one of the very first cancer chemotherapy agents and still in widespread clinical use. He also discovered[clarification needed] the drug Hetrazan which was used by the World health Organization against filariasis. Under Subbarao, Benjamin Duggar made his discovery of the world's first tetracycline antibiotic, aureomycin, in 1945. This discovery was made as a result of the largest distributed scientific experiment ever performed to that date, when American soldiers who had fought all over the world were instructed at the end of WWII to collect soil samples from wherever they were, and bring the samples back for screening at Lederle Laboratories for possible anti-bacterial agents produced by natural soil fungi.
Recognition and delayed acknowledgement
The world's memory of Subbarao has been obscured by the achievements of others and his failure to promote his own interests. Part of the reason for his obscurity was that Subbarao did not market his work, or himself. A patent attorney was once astonished to find that he had not taken any of the steps that scientists everywhere consider routine for linking their name to their handiwork. He never granted interviews to the press; he never made the rounds of the academies which apportion accolades; nor did he go on lecture tours.
His colleague, George Hitchings, who shared the 1988 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Gertrude Elion, said, "Some of the nucleotides isolated by Subbarao had to be rediscovered years later by other workers because Fiske, apparently out of jealousy, did not let Subbarao's contributions see the light of the day."
Writing in the April 1950 issue of Argosy, Doron K. Antrim observed, "You've probably never heard of Dr. Yellapragada Subbarao. Yet because he lived you may be alive and are well today. Because he lived you may live longer."
- R. Parthasarathy (13-mar-2003). "Discoverer of miracle medicines - Y. Subba Row (1895-1948)". The Hindu.
- Mukherjee, Siddhartha (16 November 2010). The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer. Simon and Schuster. p. 31. ISBN 978-1-4391-0795-9. Retrieved 6 September 2011. Quote: "Any one of these achievements should have been enough to guarantee him a professorship at Harvard. But Subbarao was a foreigner, a reclusive, nocturnal, heavily accented vegetarian who lived in a one-room apartment downtown, befriended only by other nocturnal recluses"
- Farber, S; Cutler, EC; Hawkins, JW; Harrison, JH; Peirce Ec, 2nd; Lenz, GG (1947). "The Action of Pteroylglutamic Conjugates on Man". Science 106 (2764): 619–21. doi:10.1126/science.106.2764.619. PMID 17831847.
- Farber et al.'s article, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 1946, noted Dr Subbarao's work as a foundation for this landmark paper. The paper remains one of the earliest top-cited research articles and is a classic in the field of medicine.
- Farber, Sidney; Farber S, Diamond LK, Mercer RD, et al. (1948). "Temporary remissions in acute leukemia in children produced by folic acid antagonist, 4-aminopteroyl-glutamic acid (aminopterin)". N. Engl. J. Med. 238 (23): 787–93. doi:10.1056/NEJM194806032382301. PMID 18860765.
- Miller, DR (2006). "A tribute to Sidney Farber-- the father of modern chemotherapy". British journal of haematology 134 (1): 20–6. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2141.2006.06119.x. PMID 16803563.
- WHO Report on Global Filaria Control 2002
- "History of Medicine: Dr. Yellapragada SubbaRow (1895-1948) - He Transformed Science; Changed Lives". Journal of the Indian Academy of Clinical Medicine 2 (1,2). 2001.
- Taxon ID 50474
- Dr. Yellapragada SubbaRow (1895-1948): The man and the method by Kapur, S. & Gupta, S. P. K. in Indian Journal of Experimental Biology, 36(11):1087-92