Yellapragada SubbaRow

An excellent biographical sketch on the life and achievements of Dr. Yellapragada SubbaRow, one of India’s most brilliant medical-researcher-biochemist (1895-1948), has appeared in the June 2012 issue of Resonance. The article has been authored by Prof. G. Nagendrappa, formerly Professor of Organic Chemistry, Bangalore University and currently Associate Editor of Resonance (Resonance, v.17, No.6, June 2012, pp. 538-557).

Dr. Subba Row worked at the Harvard Medical School and later as Head of Research at Lederle Laboratories, New York.

Dorn K. Antrim, a journalist, in a write-up in 1950 issue of Argosy observed that “you have probably never heard of Dr. Yellapragada SubbaRow. Yet, because he lived, you may be alive and well today. Because he lived you may live longer”. Many of the present generation in India might have never heard his name. His major medical-biochemical contributions include:

a) With his professor at Harvard (Prof. Cyrus Fiske) he developed a method for the estimation of phosphorous in body fluids and tissues;

b) He discovered the function of phosphocreatine and adenosine triphosphate as energy sources in the cell;

c) He developed methotrexate, the first chemotherapy drug for cancer, still in use;

d) He developed a method to synthesize Folic Acid (B9) as a protective agent against anemia;

e) He discovered the drug Hetrazan, which has helped immensely in the fight against filariasis and

f) He played a crucial role in the discovery of tetracycline antibiotic – arureomycin, that saved so many lives.

Hailing from Bhimavaram in the West Godavari district of Coastal Andhra, SubbaRow was a witness to the death of two of his brothers in a brief span of time due to Tropical Spruce (a malabsorption disease in July – August 1921). It became a life mission for him to pursue research on this ailment as well as on filariasis, widely prevalent in the Godavari delta. He achieved both the objectives by his work on folic acid (B9) and the discovery of the drug Hetrazan.

Modest by nature and temperament, SubbaRow’s monumental work gained selected recognition years after his early demise (at the age of 53 years). He never promoted his personal interest nor lobbied for awards and recognition. New York Herlad-Tribune called him “one of the most eminent medical minds of the Century”.

The life and work of Dr. Yellapragada Subba Row ought to be a great inspiration to the younger generation of scientists in India to set for themselves lofty goals/objectives and strive with single-minded determination as Dr. SubbaRow’s life illustrated.

MSR/30 July 2012