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January 21: Konrad Bloch and the Biochemistry of Cholesterol

January 21, 2016

konrad-blochKonrad Bloch, who shared the 1964 Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology for his work on the biochemistry of cholesterol and its relationship with heart health, was born in Silesia on this date in 1912. He became a refugee from Nazism in 1934 and arrived at Yale University in the U.S. in 1936. Bloch spent most of his academic career, from 1954 until 1982, at Harvard University. “Cholesterol, which is found in all animal cells, contains twenty-seven carbon atoms in each molecule,” notes the Encyclopedia of World Biography. “It plays an essential role in the cell’s functioning, as it stabilizes cell membrane (walls of the cell). Before Bloch’s research, scientists knew little about cholesterol, although many believed there was a connection between the amount of cholesterol and other fats in the diet and arteriosclerosis (an unhealthy buildup of cholesterol deposits inside the arteries).... Bloch’s research explained the significance of acetic acid as a building block of cholesterol, and showed that cholesterol is an essential component of all body cells. In fact, Bloch discovered that all steroid-related substances (hormones, or substances released by organs for the organic process) in the human body are derived from cholesterol.” Bloch also received the U.S. National Medal of Science. He lived to 88.

“[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.” —Dean Jeremy R. Knowles, Harvard