Roger Guillemin dies, 100 years old, Nobel-winning scientist agitated by rivalries

Roger Guillemin, a neuroscientist who co-discovered the unexpected hormones with which the brain controls many bodily functions, died Wednesday at a senior living facility in San Diego. He was 100 years old.

His death was confirmed by his daughter Chantal.

Dr. Guillemin’s career was marked by two spectacular competitions that disrupted the staid world of endocrinology research. The first was a 10-year fight with his former partner, Andres V. Schallywhich ended in a tie when the two shared half of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1977. (The other half went to American medical physicist Rosalyn Yalow for unrelated research.)

The second competition began shortly after, when Wylie Vale Jr., a former collaborator and protégé of Dr. Guillemin, set up a rival laboratory on the same campus of the Salk Institute for Biological Studies in San Diego where they both worked, further sinking Dr. Guillemin. another period of intense scientific struggle.

Roger Charles Luis Guillemin (pronounced with a hard g, GEE-eh-mah) could have followed a quiet career as a family doctor in the French city of Dijon, the capital of the Burgundy region, where he was born on January 11, 1924, and where he went to public schools and then to medical school. But a chance meeting with Hans Selyean expert on the body’s reaction to stress, took him to Montreal, where he was introduced to medical research at Dr. Selye’s newly created Institute of Experimental Medicine and Surgery at the University of Montreal.

There he became interested in an important problem of the time: how the brain controls the pituitary gland, the master organ that signals the production of the other major glands in the body.

The pituitary is located in a small pocket of bone just below a central region of the brain called the hypothalamus. No one could find any nerve connecting the hypothalamus to the pituitary, so an alternative guess was that the hypothalamus might control the pituitary with hormones. But many biologists refused to believe that the brain could produce hormones like a simple gland.

The postulated hormones were called releasing factors because they possibly caused the pituitary to release its own hormones.

In 1954, Dr. Guillemin made a critical observation: pituitary cells grown in glass containers would not produce hormones unless hypothalamus cells were grown with them. The finding supported the idea of ​​liberating factors and Dr. Guillemin was determined to prove it. He moved to Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, where he attempted to isolate postulated releasing factors from the hypothalamus of cattle slaughtered in a kosher slaughterhouse.

Success eluded him and in 1957 he teamed up with another young researcher, Andrzej V. Schally, known as Andrew. The two worked together for five years, but mysterious liberating factors thwarted their best efforts. Society broke down. Dr. Schally was transferred to the New Orleans Veterans Affairs Hospital. Dr. Guillemin eventually hired two key researchers at Baylor: Dr. Vale as a physiologist and Roger Burgus as a chemist, who would be the pillars of his efforts for the next 10 years.

Working independently, Dr. Guillemin and Dr. Schally decided that they needed a much larger number of hypothalami to extract sufficient amounts of releasing factor. Each converted his laboratory into a semi-industrial processing plant, with the help of Liberal government research funds that became available after the Soviet Union launched Sputnik, the first artificial space satellite, in 1957. Dr. Guillemin eventually processed more than two million sheep hypothalamuses. , and Dr. Schally worked on the same scale with pig brains.

The rivalry between both teams was intense, especially in matters of scientific credit. “Let me also remind you,” Dr. Schally wrote to Dr. Guillemin in a 1969 letter, “of your deliberate, repeated and personal scientific attacks on me, as well as your constant failure to recognize our contributions.”

Dr. Schally later told an interviewer, “I could be an equal partner to him, but he wanted me to be his slave.”

Releasing factors exist in such small quantities in the brain that they were barely detectable with the techniques of the time. A single fingerprint left on a glass contained enough amino acids (the building blocks of releasing factors) to ruin an entire experiment. After seven more years of effort, neither Dr. Guillemin nor Dr. Schally was able to isolate a releasing factor. Other researchers said the government, which had been funding the two men’s work for years, should stop wasting its money. They said there was more evidence of the Loch Ness monster.

In 1969, the committee of scientists advising the National Institutes of Health on endocrinology research called a meeting to prepare to cut off support for the two laboratories. But a few days before the meeting, Dr. Burgus made significant progress toward identifying the chemical structure of the releasing factor that controls the thyroid gland through the pituitary. Within a few months, the Schally and Guillemin teams had fully identified the releasing factor, known as TRF, and the funding cutoff was averted.

Now a race was on to find a second releasing factor, FRF, to control the body’s reproductive systems. Dr. Schally’s team was narrowly first, but Dr. Guillemin rebounded by discovering a releasing factor involved in controlling the body’s growth.

Dr. Guillemin was successful because he had identified a critical problem that he and Dr. Schally had pursued against all odds, while more well-known researchers had failed. The identification of releasing factors was a major event in medicine, and the Nobel committee in Stockholm duly awarded its prize for the achievement.

Dr. Guillemin had little time to rest on his laurels. His research team had become disillusioned with his relentless pursuit of scientific glory. Dr. Vale later complained about “what hell it can be sometimes for people who get caught in the meat grinder, producing more and more meat.” glory for Guillemin, especially if you are the meat.”

Dr. Vale set up his own laboratory at the Salk Institute in 1977 (Dr. Guillemin had established one there in 1970), and endocrinologists witnessed the spectacle of another furious rivalry, this time between Dr. Guillemin and his protégé. They competed to find the releasing factors known as CRF, which mediates stress, and GRF, which stimulates growth. Both were successful, although Dr. Vale’s laboratory was first in each case.

In 1951, Dr. Guillemin married Lucienne Jeanne Billard, who had been his nurse during a near-fatal attack of tuberculous meningitis in Montreal. In addition to his daughter Chantal, she is survived by four other daughters, Claire, Hélène, Elisabeth and Cece; a son, Francisco; and four grandchildren. his wife died in 2021, also to 100.

Dr. Guillemin and Dr. Vale later reconciled and became close friends. In a tribute on Dr. Vale’s 65th birthday, Dr. Guillemin, well aware of the irony of competing with his “scientist son,” cited Freud’s analysis of the Oedipus myth: “Part of any self-respecting son “He is planning to murder the father he loves and take over his kingdom.”

Kellina Moore contributed reporting.