|This biographical article relies too much on references to primary sources. (July 2010)|
|Born||March 9, 1936
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States
|Fields||Neuroscience, Treatments for Brain Diseases, Nutrition and the Brain|
Harvard Medical School
Clinical Training in Medicine and in Endocrinology, Massachusetts General Hospital
Research Training, National Institutes of Health
|Known for||Invention of use of melatonin to promote sleep
Use of serotoninergic drugs to treat obesity and other disorders characterized by disturbances in both appetite and mood
Strategies for finding drugs to treat Alzheimer's Disease; (Wurtman, 2009)
Use of their circulating precursors to increase the syntheses of brain neurotransmitters and membranes
Richard Wurtman, M.D., is the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a Professor of Neuroscience in MIT’s Department of Brain & Cognitive Sciences, and of Neuropharmacology in the Harvard – MIT Division of Health Sciences & Technology.
His research career encompasses three areas:
- Basic-science studies, principally on neurotransmitters and other brain chemicals
- One of the earliest areas of Wurtman's focus was in dietary precurors of neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine.
- Along with Nicholas Zervas of Beth Israel Hospital and Harvard Medical School, another early area of Wurtman's research pertained to the neurotransmitter dopamine, and its role in stroke physiology. Wurtman's studies occurred at a time of significant growth in research and understanding of neurotransmitters, with optimistic expectations for practical outcomes.
- Clinical studies to confirm that mechanisms discovered in the laboratory also operate in humans
- Translational work, usually in collaboration with foundations or companies, to apply the basic-science discoveries to finding new treatments for diseases
Research performed in Wurtman's laboratory has generated about 1,000 research articles and 200 patents. One such patent was for a weight-loss drug, named Redux, which transpired to have some controversial side effects. Although at the time of its release, some optimism prevailed that it might herald a new approach, there remained some reservations amongst neurologists. Wurtman himself, while a proponent of the drug, stressed that "it's not a magic pill", and urged caution in its use. Wurtman also patented a pharmaceutical invention covering the use of melatonin for controlling sleep. Melatonin was itself subjected to "starry-eyed extrapolations from experiments conducted on rats and mice". While Wurtman noted that the use of small doses to induce sleep and shift the sleep cycle was uncontroversial, he criticised some of the extrapolations and claims being made about the benefits of melatonin supplements.
Among discoveries from Wurtman's laboratory have been that
- Melatonin is a hormone, secreted at night-time, needed for the induction & maintenance of normal sleep
- Dietary carbohydrates, acting via insulin, increase brain tryptophan levels and consequently serotonin synthesis and release, thereby affecting appetite
- Serotoninergic synapses are thus a useful target for drugs to treat obesity and other conditions which affect appetite and mood (e.g. premenstrual syndrome; seasonal depression)
- Oral administration of neurotransmitter precursors such as choline, tyrosine or glutamine can enhance the synthesis and release of their products acetylcholine, dopamine or GABA (by increasing the substrate-saturation of the biosynthetic enzymes)
- Various neurotransmitters and "second messengers" can modulate the breakdown of APP (the amyloid-precursor protein) and thus the formation of amyloid beta, a protein important in the development of Alzheimer's disease.
- The biosynthesis in brain of synaptic membrane and its specializations (dendritic spines; neurites; synapses) can be enhanced by treatments affecting plasma composition.
With wife Judith Wurtman, Wurtman co-edited an eight-volume series of books on “Nutrition and the Brain”, and with John Growdon, M.D. and Suzanne Corkin, Ph.D., a nine volume series on Alzheimer’s disease.
Wurtman co-founded Interneuron Pharmaceuticals, a company aimed at marketing discoveries by M.I.T. scientists, and of Back Bay Scientific, Inc. He established the Center for Brain Sciences and Metabolism Charitable Trust, and serves as its Scientific Director.
Among Wurtman's publications are the following (see External links below for link to pdf of fuller list):
- Scheltens, P., Kamphuis, P.J., Verhey, F.R.J., Olde Rikkert,M., Wurtman, R.J.; et al. (January 2010), "The Efficacy of a medical food in early Alzheimer's Disease: A randomized controlled trial", Alzheimer's & Dementia 6 (1): 1–10, doi:10.1016/j.jalz.2009.10.003, PMID 20129316, retrieved 10 October 2010
- Wurtman, R.J (April 1982), "Nutrients That Modify Brain Function", Scientific American 246: 50–59, doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0482-50, retrieved 10 October 2010 Pagination may vary in editions published in different geographical regions. The article and number of pages is however the same
- Wurtman, R.J. (April 2006), "Physiology and clinical use of melatonin", UpToDate: 1–24, retrieved 10 October 2010
- Wurtman R.J., Cansev M, Sakamoto T, Ulus I.H (2009), "Use of phosphatide precursors to promote synaptogenesis", Annual Review of Nutrition 29: 59–87, doi:10.1146/annurev-nutr-080508-141059, PMID 19400698
- Wurtman, R.J., Cansev, M., & Ulus, I. (2009), Lathja, A, ed., Handbook of Neurochemistry (PDF) (Berlin, Heidelberg: Springer-Verlag), Vol. 8 (Part 3, Chapter 3.2) http://web.mit.edu/dick/www/pdf/1020.pdf, retrieved 10 October 2010 Missing or empty
- Wurtman, R.J., Hefti, F., & Melamed, E (1981), "Precursor Control of Neurotransmitter Synthesis" (PDF), Pharmacological Reviews 32 (4): 315–335, retrieved 10 October 2010
- Wurtman, R.J., & Wurtman, J.J. (January 1989), "Carbohydrates and depression" (PDF), Scientific American 260: 68–75, doi:10.1038/scientificamerican0189-68, retrieved 10 October 2010
- Wurtman, R.J., Wurtman, J.J., Regan, M.M., McDermott, J.M., Tsay, R.H., & Breu, J.J. (January 2003), "Effects of meals rich in carbohydrates or proteins on the plasma tryptophan ratio and brain serotonin", Am. J. Clinical Nutrition 77 (1): 128–132, retrieved 10 October 2010
- Zhdanova, I.V., Wurtman, R.J., Regan, M.M., Taylor, J.A., Shi, J.P., & LeClair, O.U. (2001), "Melatonin treatment for age-related insomnia", Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 86 (10): 4727–4730, doi:10.1210/jcem.86.10.7901, retrieved 10 October 2010 Note: If webpage opens then reverts to error message, repeated use of return button should stabilise link, as was achieved for this citation
- Cohen, Edith L; Wurtman, Richard J (Feb 13, 1976), "Brain Acetylcholine: Control by Dietary Choline" (PDF), Science 191 (4227): 561–562, doi:10.1126/science.1251187, PMID 1251187, retrieved 3 October 2010
- "Medicine: Hope for Stroke Victims", Time, Apr 29, 1974, retrieved 3 October 2010
- "Behavior: Better Living Through Biochemistry", Time, Apr 2, 1979, retrieved 3 October 2010 See p.3 for mention of Wurtman's studies
- Wurtman Lab
- Lemonick, Michael D; Nash, J. Madeleine; Park, Alice; Thompson, Dick (Sep 29, 1997), ., ed., "The Mood Molecule", Time, retrieved 4 October 2010
- Toufexis, Anastasia; Park, Alice (May 13, 1996), "Diet Pills are Coming Back", Time, retrieved 4 October 2010
- Beardsley, Tim (April 1, 1996), "Melatonin Mania: Separating the facts from the hype", Scientific American, retrieved 4 October 2010
- New approach to fighting Alzheimer’s, MIT News Office
- Lemonick, Michael D; Dowell, William; Nash, J. Madeleine; Ramirez, Ainissa; Reid, Brian; Ressner, Jeffrey (Sep 23, 1996), ., ed., "The New Miracle Drug?", Time, retrieved 3 October 2010