It's in the Blood! A Documentary History of Linus Pauling, Hemoglobin and Sickle Cell Anemia All Documents and Media  
Home | Search | Narrative | Linus Pauling Day-By-Day

All Documents and Media

"Interview with Linus Pauling."

"Interview with Linus Pauling." 1960.
Produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

Pauling's Interest in Sickle Cell Anemia. (4:52)

Get the Flash Player to see this video.


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.


Creator: Linus Pauling
Associated: Karl Landsteiner, Franklin D. Roosevelt, William B. Castle, Harvey Itano, S.J. Singer, Ibert C. Wells
Clip ID: 1960v.34-interest

Full Work

Creator: National Film Board of Canada
Associated: Linus Pauling

Date: 1960
Genre: sound
ID: 1960v.34
Copyright: More Information

Home | Search | Narrative | Linus Pauling Day-By-Day