Interviewer: The work on hemoglobin I believe is related to the disease, sickle cell anemia. Could you tell me how you became interested
in the oddly shaped blood cells which lent the disease its name, sickle cell anemia?.
Linus Pauling: Yes, I've been interested in chemistry in relation to the human being and to health and disease for a long time. In the 1930's
already, I began work on the question of the nature of antibodies, antitoxins, how the human body protects itself against
invasion by infection. There is a very interesting natural mechanism that is involved here. Dr. Karl Landsteiner of the Rockefeller
Institute for Medical Research who is the man who discovered the blood groups and made it possible to give transfusions of
blood from one human being to another, is the man who got me interested in this field of immunology.
But, after some years, at the end of the war, in connection with my interest in the application of chemistry to medicine,
I learned about the disease, sickle cell anemia. As soon as I learned about this disease, the very evening, it was at a dinner
in New York where a medical research committee, of which I was a member, a committee that had been appointed by President
Roosevelt to study medical research in the United States, was holding a meeting. At this dinner I learned about the disease,
sickle cell anemia, and immediately I thought, "could it be possible that this disease, which seems to be a disease of the
red cell because the red cells in the patients are twisted out of shape, could really be a disease of the hemoglobin molecule?"
Nobody had ever suggested that there could be molecular diseases before, but this idea popped into my head. I thought, "could
it be that these patients can manufacture a special kind of hemoglobin such that the molecules are sticky and clamp on to
one another to form long rods, which then line up side by side to form a long needle-like crystal, which as it grows inside
of the red cell becomes longer than the diameter of the cell and thus twists the red cell out of shape?"
Well, I said to the man who was talking about the disease, Dr. Castle, "has anyone ever suggested that this might be a disease
of the hemoglobin molecule?" And he said, "not so far as [he'd] ever heard." And I said, "do you think it would be alright
if I were to look at this hemoglobin from these patients and see?" And he said, "I don't see why not."
So when I got back to Pasadena it turned out that a young M.D., a young medical man, wanted to come to work with me in chemistry
and get his Ph.D. degree. I said to him, his name is Harvey Itano, I said to him, "why don't you work on the hemoglobin that
you get from patients with the disease sickle cell anemia, and see whether it is the same as hemoglobin in other human beings
or it's different." Nobody had ever found any difference between the hemoglobin of one person and another before that time.
Well, Dr. Itano did that together with two other young men in our laboratory, Dr. Singer and Dr. Wells.
Pretty soon - it wasn't an easy job, these proteins are hard substances to work with - but after a while Dr. Itano and Dr.
Singer and Dr. Wells were able to show that if they put a drop of hemoglobin solution from a patient with this disease in
a little trough containing salt solution and applied an electric field putting electrodes into this trough, the hemoglobin
from the sickle cell anemia patients would move in one direction in this trough and that from ordinary individuals would move
in the other direction. This was the proof that these patients have a different kind of hemoglobin, they manufacture a special
kind of hemoglobin molecule, which is the cause of their disease. This was the first molecular disease to be identified. That
is, the first disease to be shown to be due to the manufacture by the patient of an abnormal molecule.