Dr. Edwin G. Krebs: Seattle, USA
The Mission of the Academy includes recognizing extraordinary cardiovascular initiatives. The International Academy of Cardiovascular Sciences is delighted to recognize Dr. Edwin G. Krebs for his amazing achievements with the Academy’s Medal of Merit.
Edwin G. Krebs was born in Lansing, Iowa in 1918, the third of four children of William Carl Krebs and Louise Helen (Stegeman) Krebs. In the period from 1933 to 1940 in Urbana, he completed the last three years of high school and carried out undergraduate work at the University of Illinois. Washington University School of Medicine proved to be an excellent choice as a place where he received classical medical training but at the same time learn to appreciate “medical research.” After being discharged from the Navy in 1946, he returned to St. Louis with the idea of continuing residency and becoming an academic internist but he was accepted by Dr. Carl and Gerty Cori as a postdoctoral fellow. In 1948, he had an opportunity to go to Seattle as an Assistant Professor of biochemistry. In 1950, Hans Neurath became the first permanent chairman of the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Washington and began to build what was to become one of the major departments in the country. Dr. Krebs had been in Seattle for five years when Ed Fischer joined the Department.
Together they decided to see whether or not they could determine the mechanism by which 5’-AMP served as an activator of phosphorylase b. They didn’t solve that problem, but in the course of trying we discovered the molecular mechanism by which interconversion of the two forms of phosphorylase takes place; namely, reversible protein phosphorylation. During the early years of work on protein phosphorylation, Ed Fischer and Edwin Krebs worked together very closely even to the point that if one had to leave to give a lecture the other could carry on the experiment of the day. In 1968, Dr. Krebs went to University of California in Davis where a new medical school was taking shape. He became the founding chairman of the Department of Biological Chemistry and stayed for a period of eight years. In 1977, however, he returned to the University of Washington as Chairman of the Department of Pharmacology.
On October 12, 1992, Edmond H. Fischer and Edwin G. Krebs of the University of Washington School of Medicine received the Nobel Prize for Medicine for their discoveries in the 1950s concerning “reversible protein phosphorylation.” The Nobel Prize was established in the will of Alfred Nobel (1833-1896) for annual awards to men and women who confer the greatest benefit on humankind in the fields of physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace. Scientists worldwide have drawn on the work for a vast spectrum of research on cellular processes. They shared the $1.2 million prize.
Dr. Krebs was a professor in Pharmacology and Biochemistry and Dr. Fischer was a professor in Biochemistry. Their discovery was a key to unlocking how glycogen in the body breaks down into glucose. It fostered techniques that prevent the body from rejecting transplanted organs. Their breakthrough opened new doors for research into cancer, blood pressure, inflammatory reactions and brain signals. Their work helped researchers better understand such things as diabetes; Alzheimer’s disease; why certain cancers develop; and how the body mobilizes sugar to produce energy.
In each university, Dr. Krebs viewed the principal role of the chairman to be the selection of good faculty members, and he has great pride of the results of his efforts in each place including the opportunity to interact with colleagues in the development of the respective institutions.
As UW professor emeritus and Howard Hughes Medical Institute senior investigator emeritus, Dr. Krebs still leads an active lab. But it’s down from 20 to five lab people, who are all now looking elsewhere. “I hope to close my lab in a year,” he says.
An important part of his autobiographical sketch concerns his family. During residency at Barnes Hospital he met his wife, Deedy, who was a student nurse at Washington University and they were married in 1945. They had three children, Sally, Robert, and Martha and now have five grandchildren.
Looking at the world today, Dr. Krebs is disappointed that the goal of becoming a scientist-or even of getting an education-is becoming less accessible to poor children: “I would like to see a day when any kid would be able to go as far as his abilities could carry him,” he says. “In many ways, the situation for young people seems worse now than when I graduated.”