Roger Charles Louis Guillemin

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Roger Charles Louis Guillemin


French Physiologist and Endocrinologist

Roger Guillemin's studies of the hormonal control of the pituitary gland, and his work in isolating several hormones, have led to a greater understanding of the disease diabetes, as well as female sexual development. He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine, along with Andrew Schally (1926- ) and Rosalyn Yalow (1921- ), in 1977.

Guillemin was born on January 11, 1924, in the small French town of Dijon, the capital of the Burgundy region. His education began at the local public schools and progressed to Dijon's medical school in 1943. Six years later, he received his M.D. from the Faculté de Médecine of Lyons, with his studies based on clinical training, including a three-year "rotating internship." While Guillemin completed his studies, a dark pall settled over his hometown. France was in the throes of World War II, and the German army had taken control of Dijon.

Guillemin soon gained an interest in endocrinology, the study of the glands and hormones of the body, thanks to two of his favorite teachers, P. Etienne-Martin and J. Charpy. The two professors had conducted some of the earliest research in the field. Although Guillemin yearned to pursue a career as a laboratory researcher, there were no such facilities in Dijon, save those reserved for the field of gross anatomy.

While visiting Paris, he attended a lecture on endocrinology by Hans Selye, and was fascinated by the man and his research. A few months later, he joined Selye's newly created Institute of Experimental Medicine and Surgery at the University of Montreal, where he completed his doctoral dissertation in 1949. Rather than submit to the formalities of the French research profession, he returned to Montreal in 1953 to complete his Ph.D. in physiology at Selye's Institute and to begin his career in a less rigid setting. While there, he developed an interest in the process by which physiological controls effect the secretions of the pituitary gland in response to stress.

In 1953 Guillemin was hired as an assistant professor at the Baylor University College of Medicine in Houston, Texas. He continued his research there, becoming more and more involved in the search for clues to the hormonal control of the pituitary gland, particularly by the hormones secreted by the hypothalamus. In 1970 he moved to the Salk Institute at La Jolla, California, where he established his Laboratories for Neuroendocrinology. He later moved to the Whittier Institute for Diabetes and Endocrinology in La Jolla, and also served as Adjunct Professor of Medicine at the University of California at San Diego.

Guillemin has been honored by several scientific establishments. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1974, and became a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1976. He has received several awards, most notably the 1977 Nobel Prize in Medicine.

In addition to his work in the sciences, Guillemin is known as an art collector, and as a talented artist himself. His computer-generated paintings have been exhibited in galleries throughout the United States, Mexico, and Italy.

Guillemin's work in the field of endocrinology led to the isolation of many hormones, including somatocrinin, or growth-hormone releasing factor, which is crucial to our understanding of diabetes. He also discovered endorphins and identified many of the hormones that regulate female sexual development.