Lusk, Graham

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Lusk, Graham

(b. Bridgeport, Connecticut, 15 February 1866; d. New York, N. Y., 18 July 1932)

physiology, nutrition, clinical investigation.

Lusk was the son of William Thompson Lusk, a prominent New York teacher and practitioner of obstetrics, and Mary Hartwell Chittenden. Partially deaf, Lusk did not pursue a family interest in clinical medicine, but chose instead a laboratory science career. He received a bachelor’s degree from the Columbia University School of Mines (1887); then—as his father had a generation before—he traveled to Germany for advanced study. Lusk came under the influence of Voit and in 1891 received a Ph.D. from Munich, with a dissertation on the influence of carbohydrates in protein metabolism. Upon his return to the United States in 1891, Lusk taught physiology at the Yale Medical School, then moved in 1898 to New York City and the Bellevue Hospital—New York University College of Medicine. In 1909, he was appointed professor of physiology at Cornell Medical College, where he remained until his retirement and death in 1932.

Inspired by Voit’s work, particularly in nutrition and metabolism, Lusk devoted his career to the illumination of metabolic processes through the use of the calorimeter in the analysis of intake and output, in both normal and pathological states. While at Yale, Lusk began an important series of studies on diabetes. He administered the chemical phlorhizin to dogs to produce glycosuria and demonstrated a constant ratio between the amount of dextrose and nitrogen excreted in the urine. Later experiments indicated a differential yield of carbohydrate from the metabolism of particular amino acids. His demonstration that carbohydrates were not normally formed in the metabolism of fats held important clinical implications. He also did research on the respiratory quotient and the significance of surface area in the determination of basal metabolism rates (as opposed to those physiologists who emphasized the importance of body weight).

In 1912 Lusk was appointed scientific director of the Russell Sage Institute of Pathology, newly affiliated with the Cornell division of Bellevue. Working in conjunction with Eugene F. DuBois (clinical director of the program) Lusk had, for the first time, adequate financial and clinical resources to utilize and maintain a calorimeter for work in human physiology and pathology. Much of Lusk’s most important work resulted from two decades of collaboration with DuBois and other clinicians, resulting in more than 1,400 calorimeter experiments completed before Lusk’s retirement. Lusk probably exerted his broadest scientific influence through his synthetic work, Elements of the Science of Nutrition, which appeared in four increasingly detailed editions between 1906 and 1928 and which played an important role in popularizing the findings of calorimeter research.

With Atwater and Benedict, Lusk was a leader in metabolism studies. Like Benedict, however, Lusk’s scientific view was firmly oriented toward research methods he had learned in the 1890’s; measuring energy relationships with the calorimeter was a basic and unquestioned approach to the understanding of nutrition. As late as 1932, he still dismissed vitamin studies briefly in a chapter on dietetics in his work Nutrition. Lusk never appreciated the significance of the vitamins and especially their implications for further work in enzymatic and intracellular processes.

Few of his American contemporaries were more active than Lusk in making the medical profession a truly scientific one. When Lusk arrived in New Haven in 1891, suffused with the German research ideal and devoted to the reshaping of clinical medicine in this mold, he found Yale-like almost every American medical school-dominated by clinicians who could not appreciate his laboratory methods. Since his annual salary was $300, only a private income enabled Lusk to pursue the research demanded by his European training. Lusk soon became part of a group of young American scientists and clinical investigators-frequently German-trained-who actively sought to raise standards of medical research and education in the United States. Genuine scientific training, they argued, would have to become part of the medical school curriculum and part of the intellectual equipment and job qualifications of a new type of clinician. Lusk’s family background and his interest in pathological phenomena made him an ideal spokesman for such ideas. His collaboration over two decades with DuBois, moreover, and the practical implications of their work on diabetes had a particularly telling effect in the practice-oriented world of American medicine. Family wealth and his marriage to a daughter of Louis C. Tiffany provided the means for Lusk to become part of New York’s social and medical establishment.

A member of numerous scientific societies, including the National Academy of Sciences and the Royal Society, Lusk was founder and organizer of the Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine (1903), American Society of Biological Chemists (1906), and New York’s Harvey Society (1905), During World War I, Lusk served as adviser in matters of nutrition for the U.S. government.


I. Original Works. There is no full-length biography of Lusk and no extensive collection of his papers. Useful in understanding the background of Lusk’s calorimeter work are his Elements of the Science of Nutrition (Philadelphia, 1906; 2nd ed., 1909; 3rd ed., 1917; 4th ed., 1928), and his Nutrition (New York, 1933). This latter work, edited and published after Lusk’s death, concludes with a discussion of basal metabolism; vitamins are mentioned briefly in a chapter on dietetics.

II. Secondary Literature. For useful biographical sketches of Lusk, see Addresses Given at a Memorial Meeting for Graham Lusk at the New York Academy of Medicine on December 1O, 1932 (Baltimore, 1933); the editorial “Graham Lusk,” in Journal of Biological Chemistry, 98 (1932), vii; and Russell H. Chittenden, “Graham Lusk,“in Dictionary of American Biography, supp. I, 517-518. The most detailed sketch is by Eugene F. DuBois, “Biographical Memoir of Graham Lusk, 1886-1932,” in Biographical Memoirs. National Academy of Sciences, 21 (1941), 95-142; “Graham Lusk,” in Science76 (1932), 113-115; and John R. Murlin, “Graham Lusk. A Brief Review of His Work,” in Journal of Nutrition, 5 (1932), 527-538. Compare also C. Culotta, “Francis G. Benedict,” in Dictionary of Scientific Biography, I, 325-326; and C. E. Rosenberg, “Wilbur Olin Atwater,” ibid., I, 609-611. For a useful comparison with Lusk’s work, see E. V. McCollum, A History of Nutrition. The Sequence of Ideas in Nutrition Investigations(Boston, 1957), esp. ch. 10, “Respiration and Calorimetry.”

Charles E. Rosenberg