Narrator: Along with his protein study, he had also been spending years looking into the properties
of hemoglobin, in blood cells. Normal blood cells, like these, are disc-shaped, which
enable them to pass through blood vessels easily. But blood cells can be diseased.
Sickle cell anemia results with the sickling of cells, so that they become ridged,
and crescent-shaped. The sickled cells clump together, making it more difficult for
them to pass through the blood vessels. The disease is inherited, and often causes
pain and weakness in its victims.
Linus Pauling: I had the idea in 1945 that the disease sickle cell anemia might be the disease of
the hemoglobin molecule. No one had ever, so far as I'm aware, no one had ever suggested
the idea of a molecular disease before. As soon as I had this idea I thought, "this
must be right, from what I know of the properties of these patients. I believe that
this is a disease of the molecule, and that if we look at the blood of these patients,
we shall find that the hemoglobin molecules are different from those of other people."
Narrator: Pauling had made a profound educated guess. But it took years before techniques were
developed that could investigate his ideas. Eventually it was confirmed that the victims
inherited hemoglobin which does indeed have a defective molecular structure. Dr. Harvey
Itano, who began working with Pauling in 1946, is today, along with other scientists,
experimenting with different chemicals, trying to stop blood cells from sickling.
Pauling has taught a generation of scientists to think in molecular terms, and he
helped to establish the new science of molecular biology.