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World J Surg. 1997 Feb;21(2):226-34.

The pivotal role of John S. Edkins in the discovery of gastrin.

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  • 1Department of Surgery, Yale University School of Medicine, P.O. Box 208062, New Haven, Connecticut 06520-8062, USA.


John Sydney Edkins was born in London in 1863. After gaining two open scholarships, he attended Caius College, Cambridge and studied physiology under the tutelage of J.N. Langley and M. Foster. During this period he published on the chemical nature of pepsinogen with Langley. After qualifying as a medical doctor, he worked in Manchester before returning to London, where he succeeded E. Klein as Head of Physiology at St. Bartholomew's. For financial reasons he also worked part time at Bedford College for Women. In 1902 Bayliss and Starling overturned Pavlov's doctrine of the nervous regulation of gastrointestinal function by discovering the pancreatic secretagogue secretin-the first identifiable chemical messenger. Edkins applied a similar rationale to the stomach and in a classic series of experiments noted that injection of a pyloric mucous membrane extract resulted in gastric acid and pepsin secretion in anesthetized cats. In 1905 he named this putative active agent "gastrin." Although his ideas were initially accepted, the discovery of histamine in 1910 and the identification that extracts from other tissues had a similar physiologic effect raised serious questions regarding the validity of the existence of gastrin. Somewhat discouraged, Edkins pursued the teaching and training of women physiologists at Bedford College, where he later became Chairman of Physiology. Outside of science he successfully pursued other interests and became President of the British Croquet Association. The demonstration that gastrin was a unique antral stimulant of acid secretion by Komarov in 1938 was followed by the purification and elucidation of its chemical structure by Gregory and Tracy in 1964. Their work allowed final validation of Edkins' original hypothesis. Edkins died in London in 1940, not only fated to predecease the vindication of his hypothesis but unable to witness the evolution of his discovery into a paradigm for the hormonal regulation of secretory and proliferative cellular activity.

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