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Donald Dexter Van Slyke

Born 1883
Died 1971

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American biochemist, born March 29, 1883, Pike, New York; died May 4, 1971.

Biography of Donald Dexter Van Slyke

Donald Dexter Van Slyke was the son of Lucius Lincoln Van Slyke (1859-1931), an instructor in chemistry at the University of Michigan. He studied biochemistry at the University of Michigan, where he obtained a B.A. degree in 1905 and in 1907 received his PhD for work with the organic chemist Moses Gomberg (1866-1947).

He then won a competitive examination for a position in Washington in the Bureau of Chemistry. However, a letter from Simon Flexner made him change his mind and he became a research biochemist at the Rockefeller Institute. He worked there for seven years with Phoebus Aaron Theodor Levene (1869-1940) who, in 1911, arranged for him to study for a semester in Berlin with Emil Fischer (1852-1919), then the leading chemist in the scientific world and the 1902 winner of the Nobel Prize in chemistry.

In 1914 Slyke was offered the post of chief chemist at the recently opened hospital of the Rockefeller Institute. It was here that he took up the study of kidney physiology and kidney diseases. Although a chemist, he soon found himself in charge of a ward of patients with Bright's disease. From 1949 to 1971 he was affiliated with the Brookhaven National Laboratory.

His work concerns the chemistry of proteins and protein derivatives, as well as their role in physiology and pathology; the effects of enzymes, blood chemistry and the metabolic conditions in diabetes and nephritis.

He introduced techniques for measuring amino acids and conversion of protein into urea in the liver, and made major advances in the understanding of acid base and electrolyte problems, including measurement of blood urea which pointed the way to fluid and electrolyte therapy. His techniques for measuring blood gases led to better understanding of respiratory physiology. Most of "his" biochemical methods were developed during the years from 1912 to about 1930. He was the president of the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 1923-1924.

Van Slyke authored 317 journal publications and 5 books. From 1914 to 1925 he was the managing editor of The Journal of Biological Chemistry.

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