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Edwin J. Cohn and the Development of Protein Chemistry

Edwin J. Cohn and the Development of Protein Chemistry

With a Detailed Account of His Work on the Fractionation of Blood during and after World War II

Douglas M. Surgenor

ISBN 9780674009622

Publication date: 09/30/2002

“Blood,” Goethe observed in Faust, “is a very special juice.” How special it is and how complex as well is revealed in Douglas Surgenor’s Edwin J. Cohn and the Development of Protein Chemistry.

As Surgenor aptly shows, what began as a modest program in basic research at the Harvard Medical School in 1920 with the establishment of a small laboratory for the study of the physical chemistry of proteins, suddenly and quite unexpectedly took on immensely practical proportions twenty years later when the onset of World War II made requisite new sophisticated blood techniques and blood substitutes for the treatment of military casualties.

The knowledge and expertise gained by Edwin Cohn and his laboratory associates in the study of proteins, amino acids, and peptides in blood after 1920 put them in a unique position to carry out the search for new blood products. Edwin J. Cohn and the Development of Protein Chemistry discloses how the wartime emergency called into play Cohn’s talents as a leader who drew together chemists, clinicians, pathologists, immunologists, and others in the attainment of a complex goal. The revolution Cohn started has still not run its course.


  • [An] engrossing history-biography of Cohn… Surgenor also provides historical insights into the origins of protein biochemistry as a discipline, the founding of the Biochemistry Department at Harvard, the mobilization of the country with respect to blood collections during and after the war, the transformation and modernization of the Red Cross, and beginnings of federal funding for basic and applied research… This book chronicles one of the less publicized ‘big science’ projects of the last century.

    —J. M. Tomich, Choice


  • Douglas M. Surgenor is Senior Investigator, Emeritus, at the Center for Blood Research.

Book Details

  • 464 pages
  • Center for Blood Research