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Future Nobel Laureate in Chemistry

Posted on: August 22, 2011   by  John Cannell, MD

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Get ready to see red. The vitamin D era will, or should, produce a Nobel Laureate. The Nobel Prize in Chemistry is the crème de la crème. It’s the real deal.

That Nobel Laureate will have worked out most of the basic biochemistry of vitamin D; that person will have trained most of the great vitamin D scientists; that person will have used his/her extensive knowledge of basic chemistry to produce multiple new compounds that do what Nature did not; that person will have saved countless lives.

That person will be, or should be, Hector DeLuca.

I know many people will question my opinion, and that’s all it is: my opinion. I wrote some angry words about DeLuca’s role as an adviser for the recent Food and Nutrition Board panel; a panel so full of internal contradictions that it has become something of a joke. Time will tell if his organizations begin to market cholecalciferol or 25(OH)D vitamin D analogs. However, this does not disqualify him. It only taints his motive. I have learned that motives are best learned by the quality of the fruit around the tree.

Professor DeLuca is close to 81 years of age, suffering from lymphoma, no doubt being treated in part with a vitamin D compound he discovered. It has been said that science progresses slowly, one funeral at a time. With vitamin D scientists, those funerals come slowly indeed, a lucky fact in the case of the prolific Professor DeLuca.

I have been particularly impressed with his latest line of work. Nine-hundred twenty-six peer-reviewed papers on vitamin D ought to be enough. But not for the 81-year-old DeLuca. At 81, he turns his back on vitamin D and says that something in the sun, something other than vitamin D, is active against a range of illnesses. In his latest work, that something he is studying is active against an experimental model of multiple sclerosis.

Becklund BR, Severson KS, Vang SV, DeLuca HF. UV radiation suppresses experimental autoimmune encephalomyelitis independent of vitamin D production. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2010 Apr 6;107(14):6418-23. Epub 2010 Mar 22.

Perhaps it is one of those dozens of vitamin D-like compounds that sunlight makes in the skin. Compounds similar to (but not exactly) vitamin D; compounds we know little about; compounds DeLuca helped discover; compounds patiently waiting for one of the hundreds of scientists that DeLuca trained to focus their considerable scientific skills in the never-ending effort to understand the natural world. That effort is what Professor DeLuca loves. And that love of science, combined with his remarkable accomplishments, is why he should be the vitamin D Nobel Laureate in Chemistry.

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