THE NOBEL DUEL: The Scientists' 21-Year Race to Win the World's Most Coveted Prize by Nicholas Wade

THE NOBEL DUEL: The Scientists' 21-Year Race to Win the World's Most Coveted Prize

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Science writer Wade gets off to a rousing start: the Nobel prize ceremonies in Stockholm in 1977, with Rosalyn Yalow seated between her co-sharers in the physiology-or-medicine prize, Roger Guillemin and Andrew Schally--a proverbial rose between thorns. Guillemin and Schally, chafing at their proximity, glower with the mutual enmity that has been the scandal of the endocrinology world. For years each had tried--racing with the other--to isolate and synthesize the brain chemicals reputed to control the release of pituitary hormones, small proteins with horrendous names like luteinizing hormone releasing factor (LRF), thyroid releasing factor (TRF), etc. The book then flashes back to the two men's early years--and ends with a coda on what rivalry and competition may or may not do for science. (Yalow was not involved in the rivalry, but her part in developing sensitive assay techniques paid off in identifying the chemicals involved.) Guillemin, a Frenchman, migrated to Texas via Montreal, and now presides over a prestigious lab at the Salk Institute in La Jolla. Schally, a Pole, settled in the New Orleans VA Hospital with colleagues at Tulane. For five years the rivals actually collaborated, existing in a state of muted Cold Wax. Then hostilities broke out with a vengeance. We see Guillemin behaving like a suave Napoleonic commander, missing no opportunity to excoriate Schally with innuendo and irony. Schally, a soldier's son who also recruited troops, was more blunt, direct, and aggressive. To their credit, both men were captivated with Englishman Geoffrey Harris' theory that the brain controlled the pituitary gland by releasing chemicals from the hypothalmus, a small cluster of nerve cells linked to the pituitary. Their belief and preliminary work flew in the face of conventional wisdom, but was vindicated over time. Wade details the progress of the rival labs, the final round-the-clock race, and the scandalous secrecy in the supposedly share-the-findings world of science. It is at times an exhilarating suspense tale, at times a poignant reading of some of the second lieutenants or spiritual leaders (like Harris). But in the end one wearies of these humorless, hard-driven megalomaniacs. What they did, ironically, was not brilliant science like Watson-Crick, but the tedious grinding up of thousands of tons of pig or sheep hypothalmi for analysis and purification. Good writing, juicy quotes, but dreary, rather dreadful protagonists.

Pub Date: Aug. 14th, 1981
Publisher: Anchor/Doubleday