Kaplan, Nathan O. (Nathan Oram), 1917-1986

Alternative names
Birth 1917-06-25
Death 1986-04-15

Biographical notes:

Biochemist specializing in enzymology and chemotherapy. Associated first with Brandeis University (1957-1967) before accepting an appointment at the University of California, San Diego, in 1968, which he held until his death in 1986.

Before assuming his position at Brandeis University, Kaplan worked as a research chemist for the Manhattan Project (1942-1944) and a researcher in the McCollum-Pratt Institute at Johns Hopkins University (1950-1957). In 1980, Kaplan was named associate director of the UCSD Cancer Center.

From the description of Papers, ca. 1943-1986. (University of California, San Diego). WorldCat record id: 20293761


Nathan Oram Kaplan was born in New York City on June 25, 1917. He earned his B.A. in chemistry at UCLA in 1939 and his Ph.D. in biochemistry at UCB in 1943. His career as a biochemist focused on enzymology and chemotherapy. He was active in research and academic administration, first at Brandeis University and then at UCSD. He died in San Diego on April 15, 1986.

As a graduate student, Kaplan worked under David Greenberg in the Biochemistry Division of the UCB medical school, studying carbohydrate metabolism in the liver. His study of enzymes was interrupted by his work as a research chemist on the Manhattan Project (1942-1944), followed by a year as an instructor at Wayne State University. He continued his study of liver extracts, focusing on coenzyme A, at the Massachusetts General Hospital in 1945 as a research associate to Fritz Lipmann. He left in 1949 to become an assistant professor at the University of Illinois's College of Medicine.

In 1950, Kaplan accepted a position at the McCollum-Pratt Institute at Johns Hopkins University after Sidney Colowick insisted Kaplan's appointment be a condition of Colowick accepting the directorship for the Institute. Kaplan remained on the biology faculty of the Institute until 1957, when Brandeis University hired him to start a graduate biochemistry department. Kaplan recruited several former colleagues from Massachusetts General Hospital to Brandeis's new department.

He stayed at Brandeis until 1968, when he moved to UCSD chemistry department, having been recruited by Martin Kamen. Kaplan had known Kamen during his graduate days at Berkeley and had himself recruited Kamen to Brandeis University.

During the 1970s Kaplan focused his research on chemotherapy. He is credited with having discovered the relationship between different types of cancer and the amount of lactate dehydrogenase, or LDH, in the blood. With Gordon Sato, Kaplan founded a nude mouse colony at UCSD's NIH-funded Cancer Center, producing experimental specimens for cancer studies across the country. (Nude mice have no thymus and thus no immune system for rejecting tumors, making them valuable specimens for the study of tumor growth.) At the time of his death, Kaplan was studying human interferon and the cellular processes of malignancy.

In 1980, Kaplan became associate director of UCSD's Cancer Center. He also served on several administrative committees related to education in the medical sciences, both in the medical school and in relation to the biology and chemistry departments. Off campus, Kaplan served as an advisor and as a consultant to the American Cancer Society, the University of Chicago, the National Cancer Institute, and the National Research Council's Committee on Coenzymes.

Among his honors, Kaplan shared the Sugar Research Award in 1946 for work on phosphorolysis and synthesis of sucrose and the Nutrition Award in 1948 for work on Coenzyme A. He was presented the American Chemical Society's Award in Biological Chemistry in 1953 for work on the metabolic significance of vitamins. Kaplan was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1958 and to the National Academy of Sciences in 1970.

With Sidney Colowick, he founded and edited the book series METHODS IN ENZYMOLOGY, and he co-edited the journal ANALYTICAL BIOCHEMISTRY. Kaplan was also on the editorial advisory board of many other biochemistry journals: MOLECULAR PHARMACOLOGY, BIOCHEMICAL GENETICS, and BIOCHEMICAL MEDICINE.

From the guide to the Nathan O. Kaplan Papers, 1943 - 1986, (University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.)


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Ark ID:


  • Enzymology
  • Interferon
  • Chemistry--Research
  • Nude mouse
  • Cancer--Research
  • Biochemistry
  • Biochemists--Biography--Archives


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