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The Adrien Albert Lecture Series

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Adrien Albert (1907-1989)

Image: Adrien AlbertAdrien Albert was born in Sydney, Australia in 1907. He received his early education at The Scots College, Rose Bay, New South Wales, and then went on to the University of Sydney where he received a B.Sc. in Pharmaceutical Science with First Class Honours and the University Medal in 1932. He was accepted to the Faculty of Medicine at the University of London, where he obtained his Ph.D. in 1937 while working in the Pharmacy in Bloomsbury Square. The university awarded him the D.Sc. degree in 1947.During 1938-1947, he taught at the University of Sydney, where his research was supported by the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council. He also served as an advisor on medicinal chemistry to the Medical Directorate of the Australian Army from 1942 to 1947.

It was during this period that he and his colleagues, while investigating the mode of action of antibacterial aminoacridines and hydroxyquinolines for the Army, made some fundamental discoveries that steered medicinal chemists away from the widely held hypothesis of “one chemical group, one biological action” to an appreciation of the important role played by physical properties. Thus, the aminoacridines served as the first quantitative proof of the role of ionization in eliciting the action of a drug and the first demonstration of the need for a minimal area of flatness in the molecule. Albert and his group ultimately showed that if these two requirements were met, a full acridine-type antibacterial effect could be obtained in the absence of any heterocyclic nucleus. Likewise, the hydroxyquinolines were shown to act by chelation, at that time an unknown source of activity in chemotherapy, and a surprising sequel was the demonstration by this Australian team that a metal was required as a co-toxicant.In 1947, Albert became a Research Fellow in the Wellcome Research Institute in London. In 1948, he was appointed Foundation Professor and Head of the Department of Medical Chemistry in the John Curtin School of Medical Research in the newly formed Australian National University. He was elected to be a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 1958. At the end of 1972 came statutory retirement from his Canberra Chair, but he became a guest in other departments of the University and continued his experimental work and writings.

In 1975, he accepted an invitation to spend 2 years as Visiting Professor in the Department of Pharmacological Sciences at Stony Brook. By good fortune, laboratory number 606 was available in the Graduate Chemistry Building and he was assigned this room in remembrance of Paul Ehrlich’s work on compound 606, the first modern chemotherapeutic agent, salvarsan. He was a great admirer of Ehrlich’s pioneering work on developing this first “magic bullet” for syphilis and as a consequence took special pride in his laboratory number. While at Stony Brook, he continued his research into the biological activity of a series of 8-azapurine derivatives and taught an undergraduate course based on his concepts of selective toxicity. This course became one of the predecessors of the current undergraduate major in pharmacology. Thereafter, he remained associated with the Department of Pharmacological Sciences, at one time presenting a short course on Xenobiosis, which was televised nationally. Before his untimely death, he had been planning to return to Stony Brook once again to pursue teaching and his scientific writing. Dr. Albert wrote a general textbook of heterocyclic chemistry, a monograph on acridines and, with E.R. Serieant, a manual on the determination of ionization constants. He is perhaps best known for his book Selective Toxicity, which had seven editions and dealt with the mode of action of drugs at the molecular level; it was published in German, Italian, Japanese, and Russian. His last book, Xenobiosis, written at Stony Brook and published in 1985, dealt with the action of foreign substances in the body, principally those having their origins in food, drugs, or poisons.

Dr. Adrien Albert was one of the greatest medicinal chemists of the middle twentieth century. He discovered and developed new concepts that led to a series of drug products still in use and set the stage for many of the ideas that have evolved over the past 25 years in the area of drug development.In 1977, he participated in a three-lecture symposium at Stony Brook on chemical biology. Today, we honor him in a memorial lecture series, the Albert Lectures, established at Stony Brook University to commemorate his scientific accomplishments.