Philip Showalter Hench Biography

Philip Showalter Hench was an American physician and Nobel laureate who discovered the hormone cortisone. Explore this biography to know in details about his life, career and timeline.

Quick Facts

Birthday: February 28, 1896

Nationality: American

Famous: American Men Male Physicians

Died At Age: 69

Sun Sign: Pisces

Born in: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, United States

Famous as: Physician

Died on: March 30, 1965

place of death: Ocho Rios, Jamaica

U.S. State: Pennsylvania

City: Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

More Facts

awards: 1950 - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
1949 - Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award

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Philip Showalter Hench was an American physician who was conferred with a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his discovery of the hormone cortisone. He shared the prestigious award with his Mayo Clinic co-worker Edward Calvin Kendall and Swiss chemist Tadeus Reichstein. Hench pursued scientific studies early on in his life. He graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a doctorate degree in medicine. Hench started his professional career as an assistant at the Mayo Clinic and soon rose up to become the Head of the Department of Rheumatology. It was in 1948 and 1949 that the trio of Hench, Kendall and Reichstein made the important discovery relating to the hormones of the adrenal cortex, their structure and biological effects. Throughout his life and career, Hench was bestowed with numerous honors in addition to the Nobel Prize. Interestingly, not many know that in addition to discovering cortisone, Hench had a lifelong interest in the history and discovery of yellow fever. His researched collection on the disease is till date present at the University of Pennsylvania.

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Childhood & Early Life
  • In 1923, Hench took up the post of an assistant at the Mayo Clinic. Within three years, he was promoted as the Head of the Department of the Rheumatic Diseases.
  • From 1928 to 1929, he studied at Freiburg University and at the von Müller Clinic, Munich. In 1928, he was appointed an instructor in the Mayo Foundation. In 1932, he became Assistant Professor, in 1935, Associate Professor and in 1947, Professor of Medicine.
  • At Mayo Clinic, Hench specialized in arthritis. He made detailed observations which led him to hypothesize that steroids had a curative effect on arthritis. They helped in alleviating pain that the disease caused.
  • In the period between 1930 and 1938, he befriended Edward Calvin Kendall, who had isolated several steroids from the adrenal gland cortex. Together, the two decided to try the effect of Compound E, one of the substances, on rheumatoid arthritis patients. However, they weren’t able to conduct the test successfully until 1948, as Compound E was both costly and its isolation a complicated and time-consuming process.
  • After his service in the military during World War II, Hench continued his scientific career. In 1948 and 1949, Hench together with Kendall and Swiss chemist Tadeus Reichstein successfully conducted experiments which helped them make discoveries relating to hormones of the adrenal cortex, their structure and biological effects. Their work won them a Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1950.
  • Apart from his scientific work, Hench was one of the founding members of the American Rheumatism Association, and served as its president in 1940 and 1941.
  • During his lifetime, Hench authored several papers in the field of rheumatology, his contribution mainly in the field of Hygeia and the Annals of Rheumatic Diseases.
  • In addition to his work on cortisone, Hench also researched on yellow fever. From 1937, he began to document the history behind the discovery of yellow fever. Whatever documents that he collected were posthumously passed on to the University of Virginia by his wife where they are till date present as the Philip S. Hench Walter Reed Yellow Fever Collection
Major Works
  • Hench’s most significant work came in 1948 and 1949. He, together with Kendall and Reichstein, discovered the hormone cortisone and its application for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis. This discovery of the hormones of the adrenal cortex, their structure and biological effects were instrumental in finding the cure to rheumatoid arthritis.
Awards & Achievements
  • For his contribution in the field of physiology or medicine, Hench was awarded numerous awards including Heberdeen Medal in 1942, Lasker Award in 1949 and Passano Foundation Award in 1950.
  • Hench received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1950, together with Kendall and Tadeus Reichstein. The trio were awarded for their discoveries relating to the hormones of the adrenal cortex, their structure and biological effects.
  • He received honorary doctorate degree from various institutions and universities including Lafayette College, Washington and Jefferson College, Western Reserve University, the National University of Ireland and the University of Pittsburgh.
  • He was made Fellow of the American Medical Association and America College of Physicians.
  • He holds honorary membership of the Royal Society of Medicine (London) and of rheumatism societies in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Denmark and Spain.
Personal Life & Legacy
  • In 1927, Philip S. Hench married Mary Genevieve Kahler. The couple was blessed with four children, two sons and two daughters.
  • Apart from science, Hench was interested in music, photography and tennis.
  • He died of pneumonia on March 30, 1965, while on a vacation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.

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Philip Showalter Hench

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