(Slighty delayed) Day 7 of the 100 Day Challenge:
Edward Calvin Kendall was a chemist. He went to Columbia University, worked at Mayo Clinic and in 1950 he shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine with a colleague of his, Philip Hench. Working together, Kendal & Hench were the first scientists to ever identify and isolate adrenal gland hormones such as cortisone and hydrocortisone. Today they have been made into, oftentimes, lifesaving drugs used to treat a variety of ailments. Thousands of people can’t imagine life without them.
A very dear friend of mine (and calling her ‘only’ a friend isn’t quite right, but alas there are no other words for that weird place between friend and family) has Addison’s disease. That is to say she has no functioning adrenal glands and relies entirely on hormone replacement treatment with hydrocortisone pills to survive. In times of physical stress, like when she has a fever or is otherwise unwell, she has to inject hydrocortisone. Kendall & Hench’s work means she is alive and has a fighting chance against a monster of a disease.
In 1914, long before his Nobel Prize, Edward Kendall became the first person in the world to isolate the hormones of the thyroid gland. He received very few accolades for this discovery and in truth, on a scientific level it may have been less significant than his work on the adrenal gland.
But it is because of his work that another biochemist, Charles R. Harington, was able to synthesize the first hormone replacement pill for thyroid disorders (aka levothyroxine) in 1926. Levothyroxine first went into mass production in 1958.
There are millions of people in this world with thousands of disorders, diseases and congenital defects (as sour as that word sounds). As one them is my child I think I’m allowed to be a little biased.
Every morning at 6:30-7am, Dot has her thyroxine. Afterwards she has to wait an hour to eat anything else to allow for maximum absorption of the drug. Because she’s under the age of three and her brain is developing at full speed, not taking thyroxine or taking the wrong dose of thyroxine would equal irreversible brain damage. As the thyroid gland isn’t dysfunctional in Dot’s case but absent, not taking her thyroxine would eventually kill her.
Before Dot was diagnosed with congenital hypothyroidism, I had never heard of Edward Kendall. When she got her diagnosis, I wanted to find out who made her medication possible, who first isolated the substance, who discovered it. In short I wanted to know who we owed her life to. I’ve since memorised Edward Kendall’s name and am so grateful every single day for his existence and work. Not just for CH, but for everyone he benefited through his incredible discoveries. I am also grateful for the thousands of men and women like him and for the work they do.
It is beyond me that people like him don’t have celebrity status in our society, but that’s perhaps a whole other discussion….!