30 March: Tribute to Philip Showalter Hench

OV Digital Desk

Philip Showalter Hench (28 February 1896 – 30 March 1965) was an American physician and endocrinologist. He won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1950.

Life and Career

He was born on 28 February 1896, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA. In 1916, he graduated from Lafayette College, Easton with a bachelor’s degree in the arts. Hench received his Ph.D. in medicine from the University of Pittsburgh in 1920.

He began his career as a pathologist but became interested in endocrinology and joined the staff of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota in 1923.

In 1928, he was appointed an instructor at the Mayo Foundation. In 1932, he became Assistant Professor, in 1935, Associate Professor, and in 1947, Professor of Medicine.

At the Mayo Clinic, Hench and his colleagues studied the role of the adrenal gland in regulating the body’s response to stress. In the 1930s, they discovered that the adrenal cortex produced a hormone called cortisone that was effective in treating rheumatoid arthritis, a debilitating autoimmune disease.

Hench and his team conducted clinical trials using cortisone to treat patients with rheumatoid arthritis and found that it reduced inflammation and pain and improved joint mobility. This discovery led to the development of other synthetic corticosteroid drugs that are still used today to treat a variety of inflammatory and autoimmune conditions.

He continued his scientific career after serving in the military during World War II. Together with Kendall and Swiss chemist Tadeus Reichstein, they conducted experiments that helped them discover adrenal cortex hormones, their structure, and their effects between 1948 and 1949.

Hench’s work on cortisone also helped establish the field of endocrinology, and he became a leading figure in the study of hormones and their effects on the body.

He served as president of the Endocrine Society and was a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

He died on 30 March 1965, in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

Award

Hench won numerous awards for his work in physiology or medicine, including the Heberdeen Medal in 1942, and Passano Foundation Award in 1950.

Hench won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1950 along with Kendall and Tadeus Reichstein for their discoveries about adrenal cortex hormones, their structure, and their effects.

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