Professor Walter Stumpf is one of the forgotten heroes of vitamin D. From 1970 to 1995, he was at my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, as a Professor of Cell Biology and Pharmacology with appointments in the Department of Anatomy and Pharmacology. There he laid the groundwork for the Vitamin D Era.
In 1979, he said hold on; it appears that activated vitamin D (he called it soltriol) binds to sites all over the body, not just the kidney, intestine, parathyroid, and bone. He developed a technique for radiolabeling activated vitamin D and then injecting it into animals to see where it bound.
His first discovery, published in Science in 1979, was that it bonded in pituitary, stomach and skin tissue, just to name a few. No one believed him. Vitamin D was only involved with calcium, they said.
Undeterred, he was the first to hypothesize that it was functioning all over the body, as a steroid hormone. Three years and 11 papers later, he discovered that activated vitamin D bound to brain tissue, a discovery again published in the prestigious journal, Science.
Seven years and 19 papers later, he discovered activated vitamin D was involved in reproduction, noting its importance in puberty, fertility (male and female), pregnancy, lactation, and even sexual behavior.
Last month he was senior author on a paper hypothesizing that vitamin D was involved in the epidemic of sleep disorders.
Professor Walter Stumpf is, perhaps, someone you have never heard of. However, while others were claiming that vitamin D is only involved in calcium metabolism, he was exploring the whole body, laying the foundation for the Vitamin D Era.