1948 Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award

Antibiotic properties of soil bacteria (streptomycin)

Vincent du Vigneaud
Professor Vincent du Vigneaud has contributed richly to the science of biological chemistry. Out of his early interest in the structure and metabolism of sulfur compounds arose a new concept in regard to the essential role of methyl groups and amino acids in animal nutrition. These discoveries have been especially fruitful in regard to understanding the functions of the liver and kidneys, but they have no such limitation—they have provided many new windows through which the chemist, the biologist, and the physician can visualize changes that characterize all living cells.

In the field of vitamins, Dr. du Vigneaud's accomplishments, in collaboration with his associates, have included extensive structural and functional studies of vitamin H, or biotin. Following the isolation of biotin, its detailed structure was established by their work and the assigned formula was confirmed by synthesis in independent laboratories.

During the war years, Dr. du Vigneaud worked intensively on the chemistry of the critically needed antibiotic, penicillin. This work culminated in the creation of a synthetic product and proof of its identity with natural penicillin.

Few men are privileged to make so many basic discoveries and to establish experimental findings so clearly. Dr. du Vigneaud's achievements in biological chemistry have had, and will continue to have, an extraordinary influence upon scientific research in many laboratories throughout the world. In addition, a record of his contributions should include reference to his rare gift of friendship, his training of outstanding young biochemists, and his skill as a lecturer.

Dr. du Vigneaud's discoveries are invaluable to medical understanding of the functions of the liver and kidneys and are of significance when it is realized that diseases of the liver and kidneys cause the death of 95,000 persons in a single year.

He helped prove the identity of biotin as more than a yeast growth factor but as a vitamin, helped isolate it, worked out its chemical structure, all since confirmed. Armed with this knowledge, scientists have been better equipped to continue their investigations into the mechanism of this powerful vitamin, and to bring about a clearer understanding of its effects on living things.

Dr. du Vigneaud's achievements have had, and will continue to have, and extraordinary influence upon scientific research in many laboratories.

René Dubos and Selman Waksman 
The value of man's health and well-being of fundamental research is well exemplified by the researches of Selman Waksman and of René Dubos, recognized throughout the world for their outstanding contributions to science.

Their studies on the relations of association and antagonism of mixed microbiological populations of the soil have not only contributed to our basic knowledge of bacterial metabolism, but also have demonstrated the antibiotic properties of soil bacteria of immediate value to man.

Dr. René Dubos, applying the principle of enrichment of soil with pathogenic bacteria, isolated a spore-forming bacterium capable of bringing about lysis of certain gram-positive organisms. He first isolated from the spore-forming bacteria specific crystalline substances such as tyrothricin that are powerful bacterial antagonists, thus contributing materially to the subsequent development in the field of antibiotics.

Dr. Selman Waksman's studies on the microorganisms of the soil have led to the discovery of a host of antibiotics, among them streptomycin, one of the most potent available to medicine today. It has permitted successful treatment of diseases due to bacteria which are resistant to penicillin. It also affects the growth and viability of the tubercle bacillus and favorably influences the course of some clinical varieties of human tuberculosis (TB).

Particular emphasis is given to this joint award in that deaths in 1946 from tuberculosis alone claimed 50,000 persons, and disabilities from various forms of TB are estimated at 680,000. It is the seventh-ranking killer disease in the US, but in many other countries the disease is far more widespread with greater death and disability rates, particularly after World War II. Of note is the fact that approximately $1,613,000 is available yearly for research in the field of tuberculosis, the number one cause of death among persons from 15 to 44, in contrast to $123 million spent for its control and cure in a recent year. Meanwhile, other medical workers are continuing to explore new uses for the drug as treatment for TB and undulant fever, and the search for newer and better antibiotics to supplement those isolated by these Lasker Award winners continues.

The studies of René Dubos and Selman Waksman have again emphasized the importance of fundamental research in that, by increasing our knowledge concerning the activities of soil organisms, they have at the same time elucidated roles which microorganisms can play in maintaining the health of man.