Department News



On October 15, 2009, the annual Bloch Lecture will be presented by Dr. David E. Clapham, HHMI Investigator, Aldo R. Castañeda Professor of Cardiovascular Research, Director of Cardiovascular Research, Children’s Hospital, and Professor of Neurobiology, Harvard Medical School. The title of his seminar is Sex and Ion Channels.

Dr. Clapham’s distinguished career has centered on G-protein coupled receptors, calcium signaling and ion channels. Throughout his research, Dr. Clapham has shown an affinity for particularly challenging research problems, sometimes going against the dogma of the times. For instance, his early work focused on the link between ion channels and muscarinic G-protein coupled receptors. He showed that the bgsubunits of G-proteins were not simple accessories or bystanders, but had their own set of effectors – including ion channels – just like the better characterized Ga subunits.

More recently, his research efforts have included ion channels otherwise neglected because of the great technical challenges of studying them in their native environments, like mitochondrial or sperm channel proteins – the topic of his Bloch Lecture. Another focus is the TRP channel superfamily, where Dr. Clapham’s research has uncovered physiological roles for many TRPs.

A constant thread in Dr. Clapham’s work is the relevance to human physiology and disease, not surprising since he trained as a physician-scientist, obtaining an MD/PhD from Emory University. He then continued his medical training and career at Harvard Medical School, with a two-year research postdoc at Max-Planck-Institute for Biophysical Chemistry, Göttingen, Germany. He joined the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota in 1987, and returned to the faculty at Harvard Medical School in 1996. His research has been recognized by numerous awards, including his election to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2000 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 2006.

The Bloch lecture, sponsored by Pfizer, honors Harvard faculty member and Nobel-prize recipient Konrad Bloch (1912-2000), a pioneer in the field of cholesterol and lipid metabolism.


by Jim Henle

Konrad E. Bloch was an outstanding scientist who helped shape the discipline of biochemistry in its formative years. One of the founders of biochemical studies at Harvard, he was part of the pioneer generation that included George Wald, Paul Doty, John Edsall and Frank Westheimer. Best known for his studies of cholesterol, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1964 (shared with Feodor Lynen) for investigations in the mechanism and regulation of cholesterol and fatty acid metabolism. Especially noteworthy were the studies on the biological synthesis of the molecule and, according to the Nobel Prize website, “on various aspects of terpene and sterol biogenesis…enzymatic formation of unsaturated fatty acids and…in various aspects of biochemical evolution.”

Arriving at Harvard from the University of Chicago in 1954, he was appointed Higgins Professor of Biochemistry, a position he held until his retirement in 1982. He was part of the core group at Harvard that founded the Committee on Higher Degrees in Biochemistry. With the somewhat later arrival of James Watson, Matthew Meselson, Walter Gilbert, Mark Ptashne and Guido Guidotti, Harvard had achieved a remarkably dynamic and productive core group in biochemistry and molecular biology, of which Dr. Bloch was a signal part. The late Dean Jeremy Knowles described him as “a marvelously perceptive biochemist and a wise, generous and cultivated man who forged the connections between chemistry and biochemistry. He was one of that distinguished line of European biochemists whose deep understanding of metabolism laid the chemical foundations of today’s biology.” [quoted in Harvard Gazette, Oct. 19, 2000]

Dr. Bloch was born in Neisse, then part of Germany, in 1912; he was racially excluded from his studies at Munich in 1934 upon the Nazi advent to power. His subsequent odyssey began in Switzerland, and he was spared a likely fatal return to Germany by the intervention of John Anderson, a Yale biochemist, who helped him with a visa to the US. In America, his studies resumed at Columbia; after a brief stay in Chicago, he came to Harvard.

His work was widely recognized; in addition to the Nobel, he received the US National Medal of Science, and many other awards and honorary degrees. In addition to his scientific output, he wrote intriguing popularizing works such as “Blondes in Venetian Paintings, the Nine-banded Armadillo, and Other Essays in Biochemistry”. He died in 2000, at the age of 88. In 1986, the annual Konrad Bloch lecture was inaugurated in his honor.

The author wishes to express his gratitude to Prof. Guido Guidotti for reviewing the text for accuracy.

The Bloch lecture, sponsored by Pfizer, honors Harvard faculty member and Nobel-prize recipient Konrad Bloch (1912-2000), a pioneer in the field of cholesterol and lipid metabolism.