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The Symposia, 1933 — 2003

1937:   Internal Secretions, Vol. V

Organizer: Eric Ponder

Table of Contents

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Research on internal secretions (hormones) seems rather distant from the topics of the earlier Symposia, but it was a hot topic of research in the first half of the 20th century. Reginald Harris, wanting the Biological Laboratory to be at the forefront of research, had appointed Wilbur Swingle to the summer staff in 1924, describing this as the "...most important single step in providing for an increase in investigation at the Laboratory." Swingle carried out research during the summers and in 1929 was joined by Joseph Pfiffner who had a full-time appointment to the Laboratory. Together, they isolated "cortical hormone" from the adrenal cortex, a result published in 1930. This success was followed, in 1932, by Oscar Riddle, a staff member, reporting the identification of the hormone prolactin.

It seems from the presentations at the Symposium, that by 1937 the field was entering a phase of consolidation; the focus was on understanding the functional and metabolic activities of the known hormones. These included, for example, presentations by Gregory Pincus (who went on to the develop the "Pill") and George Corner on progesterone; Witschi on the hormones of the hypophysis; Swingle and Kendall (who shared the 1949 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine) on cortisone; and

by Riddle on prolactin.

The Symposium was a financial success. Ponder commented in the Biological Laboratory's Annual Report that there 79 participants and that the "...Symposium this year was, if anything, too large." This was also true of the published volume, at 433 pages. Clearly, the Symposia were beginning to make a name for themselves and there were benefits—for the first time a figure is given for the sales of the Symposium volumes—about $2500 in 1937. This was a substantial amount of money. We do not have the accounts for 1937 but in 1941 (the first year accounts were included in the Annual Report), the "Symposia Receipts" amounted to $3614, ten per cent of the Biological Laboratory's income. As John Cairns was to find thirty years later, the Symposia could be a lifesaver for the Institution.

Jan A. Witkowski

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