Jerome W. Conn

Born 1907
Died 1994

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American endocrinologist, born September 24, 1907, New York; died June 11, 1994, Naples, Florida.

Biography of Jerome W. Conn

This biography is based on:

  • William H. Daughaday:
    Jerome W. Conn. An artcile made available on the internet by the National Academy of Sciences, Washington.

Jerome W. Conn's choice of profession was probably influenced by a family friend who was a physician. He attended Rutgers University for three years before he entered the University of Michigan Medical School in Ann Arbor in 1928. However, on October 29 – "Black Tuesday" – the following year, the stock market crashed nationwide. The Great Depression depleted the family resources, and his two sisters, both of whom were equally gifted, contributed materially to his education from their salaries as secretaries. He never forgot this sacrifice, and when his brother Harold, who was twenty years his junior, came to the University of Michigan for his medical education, Conn paid his tuition and expenses. Already in the first year he married a classmate, Betty Stern, who later shared his interests in clinical research.

Conn graduated from the University of Michigan School of Medicine in 1932 with honours and as a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Society. He first interned in surgery, but after one year switched to internal medicine. After two years of medical residency he was attracted to research in the Division of Clinical Investigation in the areas of obesity, energy metabolism, and diabetes under the direction of Dr. Louis H. Newburgh. His wife joined the division at the same time and they collaborated in important studies of the relationship between obesity and noninsulin-dependent diabetes. Conn entered the division as a fellow in 1935 and became an assistant professor of internal medicine in 1938.

Conn’s group was one of the first to clearly recognize the relationship between obesity and adult-onset diabetes by showing the resumption of normal carbohydrate tolerance after attainment of normal weight in twenty of twenty-one patients. This was quite an achievement in view of the difficulty of obese patients to reach normal weight by dietary restriction.

During World War II, in 1943, Conn took over the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism. Because acclimatization to tropical heat was a major military concern in the South Pacific, he undertook a series of investigations of the regulation of salt loss in sweat in conscientious objectors exposed to elevated heat and humidity. Conn established that acclimatisation involved a rapid curtailment of renal, sweat, and salivary sodium excretion.

He spent his entire career at the University of Michigan. In 1968 he was named the L. H. Newburgh Distinguished University Professor. He retired from the university in 1974.

Conn's syndrome was based on a thirty-four-year-old patient who entered the university hospital in 1954 complaining of seven years of episodic muscle weakness that often resulted in virtual paralysis of her lower legs. In addition, she noted muscle spasms and cramping of her hands. Conn took the occasion of his presidential address to the Central Society for Clinical Research on October 29, 1954, to present for the first time his extensive clinical investigations of this new syndrome, which he called primary aldosteronism. In the years that followed, Conn’s clinic became a world referral centre for patients with hyperaldosteronism.

During his highly productive career at Michigan, Conn authored 284 scientific papers and book chapters; but the most impressive product of his long direction of the Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism Research Unit at Michigan was the large number of bright young fellows that began their research career in his division. He tirelessly supported their development as independent investigators and promoted their research careers.

Conn received many honours and was a member of twelve national professional societies

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