Today along with Swami Vivekananda, there is another great Indian we should remember…. Yellapragada Subbarow, do you know who he is?

There is no Biologist or Chemist who would not have heard his name!

We Indians have always failed to recognise those people who have really contributed to society. We often remember only politicians, cricketers and movie stars and forget the genuine heroes of our society. The reason why India is respected through out the world is because of these great people. For the discovery he has done, his name should have probably been next to Louis Pasteur, Joseph Lister or Alexander Fleming and should have got Padma Vibushana or even Bharat Ratna for saving the lives of millions…..but we do not the value of his contribution.

I am sure, Biologists and Chemists will be very happy to know who this man is, without him most of them would not have succeeded in their career.  Yellapragada Subbarow was born on 12 January 1895 in Bhimavaram, Madras Presidency, now in West Godavari District, in Andhra Pradesh. Hailing from a very poor family, he saw a tough life and witnessed the deaths of many of his relatives due to various diseases. It was a time when treatment was not available easily to all. He could not clear his matriculation in the first attempt due to family crisis and finally completed in the3rd attempt.

Looking the painful deaths in his family, he wanted to become a doctor to help people and thus joined the Madras Medical College. With no money, he was unable to pay the college fee. But his father in law Kasturi Suryanarayana Murthy helped him financially to complete the course. However during his study, Gandhiji’s call to boycott western clothes encouraged him to wear Khadi and gave up all western clothes. He started wearing Khadi clothes to the operation theater which irked his professor M. C. Bradfield. As a result Subbarow was awarded a Licentiate in Medicine and Surgery (LMS) instead of MBBS even though he completed the course. Due to this, he was not allowed to enter the Madras Medical Service and had to take up lecturing in Anatomy at Dr. Lakshmipathi’s Ayurvedic College at Madras. Fascinated by the amazing healing powers of Ayudrveda, he started research in Ayurveda and wanted to put in the modern application.

He decided to go to America for further research and higher studies for which again his father in law collected money and arranged his trip. Although he was not awarded MBBS, he was allowed to continue his studies in the Harward School of Medicine noting his extreme intelligence. He joined as junior faculty member. Here he met a collegue called Cyrus Fiske, there started his long journey for the path breaking discovery.

Fiske and Subbarow, studied the importance of Phosphrous in the body. They wanted to understand how the body stored energy and in what form. How does the body release energy only when required? These questions lead them to discover the 2 most important chemicals phosphocreatine and adenosine triphosphate (ATP). They demonstrated that the body stores energy in the form of ATP and whenever energy is required, the ATP is broken into ADP (Adenosine di phosphate) with a release of Phosphate molecule. This is regarded as the most important discovery in the history of Chemistry as it paved way for understanding the body function like Glycolysis. Within a short span he became famous in America. He earned his PhD degree in the same year based on his work.

They developed a simple method called the FISKE-SUBBAROW method of phostphate determination in tissues, which is the most simplest method followed even today by almost all Biologists and Chemists in the world. Just type FISKE-SUBBAROW in Google and check what you get.

Despite his invaluable contribution, Harward denied him a regular position after which he moved to Lederle Laboratories, where he worked to isolate folic acid to help anemia patients. He had a strong will to do something for the people as his childhood memories of people suffering due to anemia and other diseases haunted him.

His another path breaking discovery came when he developed the important anti-cancer drug methotrexate. This was one of the first anti cancer drug used in Chemotherapy. Even today methotrexate is the most preferred anti Cancer drug used in the world. It is presently used to treat Burkitt’s Lymphoma, leukemia (Blood Cancer), psoriasis and also rheumatoid arthritis.

He also developed a drug which is used to treat filariasis.This achievement of his made him personally very happy, as his brothers were victims of filariasis. This drug later got international acceptance by the World Health Organization as the standard drug for filariasis.  He also guided a  student Benjamin Duggar who made an important discovery of the world’s first tetracycline antibiotic and aureomycin. Even today , the antibiotics tetracycline and aureomycin are considered more effective than penicillin. 3rd generation Tetracycline drugs were later used as preventive drug for Malaria and became most efficient. All this path breaking discoveries earned him name and fame.

He earned the title MIRACLE MAN OF DRUGS!

But in the year, 1948 this great scientist passed away when he was only 53. His amazing contribution to the field of Medicine changed the dynamics of understanding of Science. Subbarow was planning to come to India and wanted to continue his work in his country. But unfortunately just a year after Independence he passed away leaving a big void in the filed of Science.

His colleague Doron Antrim had once said …You’ve probably never heard of Dr. Yellapragada Subbarow. Yet because he lived you may be alive and are well today. Because he lived you may live longer.”

He dedicated his entire life with a sole intention to solve the misery of people suffering with disease and lived upto his words. It is unfortunate that our own people hardly know about this great man. It is our duty to salute this man and thank him for his enormous contribution.


Aishwarya S