Professor Emeritus Richard Wurtman, Influential Determine In Translational Analysis, Dies At Age 86 | MIT Information

Richard Wurtman, the Cecil H. Green Distinguished Professor Emeritus and a member of the MIT college for 44 years, died Dec. 13. He was 86.

Wurtman earned an MD from Harvard Medical School in 1960 and educated at Massachusetts General Hospital earlier than becoming a member of Nobel laureate Julius Axelrod’s lab on the National Institutes of Health in 1962. of Nutrition and Nutrition Science. In the early Nineteen Eighties he joined the newly fashioned Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences. Wurtman was additionally closely concerned within the National Institutes of Health-founded Clinical Research Center at MIT, which he additionally directed for 25 years.

His preliminary placement in Nutrition and Food Science was fortuitous, Wurtman recalled in a 2011 profile, as a result of it “made me aware of the fact that nutrients are chemicals the way drugs are chemicals.” A compound like folic acid is a vitamin in meals, but when it is given alone in larger doses, it turns into a drug that protects the creating nervous system.”

Wurtman’s seek for new organic properties and therapeutic purposes of recognized molecules – hormones, vitamins or current medication – has been very fruitful. His analysis on the pineal gland, which started when he was in medical college, led to the invention that melatonin, the hormone produced by the gland, regulates sleep.

“Dick Wurtman was a pioneer in studying the role of neurotransmitters in the brain and neuroendocrine regulation of normal and abnormal brain functions,” stated Newton Professor of Neuroscience Mriganka Sur, who served as head of the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences from 1997. . 2012. “His work on the impact of diet on neurotransmitters such as acetylcholine and on neuronal membrane synthesis laid the foundation for later translational work on brain diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.”

Wurtman’s lab discovered that consuming carbohydrates will increase tryptophan ranges within the mind and, subsequently, the manufacturing of the neurotransmitter serotonin. This led to a long-term collaboration together with his spouse Judith Wurtman, a analysis affiliate at MIT, wherein they discovered that carbohydrates had been typically consumed by people as a type of self-medication after they had been experiencing temper swings, comparable to within the late afternoon or when affected by premenstrual syndrome ( PMS). The Wurtmans’ analysis led to the event of Sarafem, the primary drug for extreme PMS, and a drink, PMS Escape, used for milder types of the syndrome.

To commercialize a few of his findings, Wurtman based Interneuron Pharmaceuticals in 1988; the corporate was renamed Indevus in 2002 and purchased by Endo Pharmaceuticals in 2009.

Wurtman’s analysis superior the concept that substrate availability, not simply enzyme exercise, could management metabolic processes within the mind. He discovered that dietary availability of neurotransmitter precursors (for instance, acetylcholine, dopamine, and GABA) can improve their ranges within the mind and modulate their metabolism. In addition, he utilized this idea to synaptic structural parts comparable to mind phosphatides and located that dietary consumption of three rate-limiting precursors – uridine, choline and the omega-3 fatty acid DHA – led to elevated ranges of phosphatide within the mind, elevated density of the dendritic backbone. and improved reminiscence efficiency. These findings led to the event of Souvenaid, a specifically formulated multi-nutrient drink primarily based on the three important phosphatide precursors from Wurtman’s later analysis. It has been the topic of quite a few scientific trials on Alzheimer’s illness and, most just lately, on age-related cognitive decline.

“Dick Wurtman was a pioneer in studying how nutrients affect brain function,” stated Li-Huei Tsai, Picower Professor of Neuroscience and director of The Picower Institute for Learning and Memory. “His work on nutrient clinical trials and the establishment of the MIT Clinical Research Center have been immensely helpful to my own work in understanding how high doses of choline as a supplement could potentially help reduce certain risks of Alzheimer’s disease, and the development of clinical trials by our team at MIT to test Alzheimer’s disease. therapies.”

“Dick’s legacy lies in the careers of the hundreds of interns and collaborators he launched or strengthened, the more than 1,000 research papers published, his numerous patents, and people who have benefited from his therapeutic approaches,” stated former postdoc Bertha Madras, now a professor of psychobiology at McLean Hospital and Harvard Medical School. “Yet these quantitative statistics, legacies of research and mentoring, do not illustrate the charitable qualities of this remarkable man. I witnessed his deep intellect, boundless energy, enthusiasm, optimism and generosity towards interns, qualities that helped me through the ups and downs I encountered in the adventures of a scientific career. Dr. Richard Wurtman was a creative, brilliant scientist, a mentor, a devoted husband to his beloved woman.”

“Dick was an inspiration, a motivation and a guide to all his students and colleagues in shaping thoughts to be precise and purposeful,” says Tony Nader PhD ’89, who did his doctoral analysis at Wurtman. “His rigorous scientific approach and application of his findings have helped improve lives. His legacy is enormous.”

Richard and Judith Wurtman have additionally made a long-lasting philanthropic affect at MIT. They bestowed a professorship within the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences in honor of the late Institute Professor and Provost Walter Rosenblith; the chair was first held by Ann Graybiel, who’s now an institute professor; Nancy Kanwisher is the present Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience. The Wurtmans are additionally longtime supporters of MIT Hillel.

Elazer R. Edelman, the Edward J. Poitras Professor of Medical Engineering and Science at MIT, professor of drugs at Harvard Medical School, and director of the MIT Institute for Medical Engineering and Science, recollects that Wurtman additionally championed the Harvard-MIT Program in Health Science and Technology: “He changed our school and our world – he and Judith coupled immense charity with exceptional intellect and they made us all better for it.”

Richard Wurtman leaves behind his spouse Judith; daughter Rachel; son David and daughter-in-law Jean Chang; and grandchildren Dvora Toren, Yael Toren and Jacob Vider.


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