Letter from Simon Flexner, Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research to Michael Heidelberger
Flexner, the director of the Rockefeller Institute, here encouraged Heidelberger to pursue the possibility, not realized at
the time, of obtaining X-ray images of crystals of hemoglobin, the red, oxygen-carrying pigment protein in the blood. (Such
X-ray photographs eventually served to elucidate the three-dimensional structure of hemoglobin in 1953.) Heidelberger had
perfected techniques for making large quantities of pure crystalline horse hemoglobin, with its oxygen-carrying property intact
and needed for studies of the uptake and release of oxygen in the blood, while working in the biochemical laboratory of Donald
D. Van Slyke at the hospital of the Rockefeller Institute in 1921/22.
Flexner also noted a new trend towards the application of chemistry in immunology, a trend which Heidelberger would help to
substantially advance over the next two decades.
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1 (69,115 Bytes)
1924-06-23 (June 23, 1924)
Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research
Courtesy of Michael Heidelberger.
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Your letter written from London about the middle of May deserved a more prompt reply. I was very much pleased to hear from
you, and to learn that you were enjoying London and that your wife and baby were well.
You seem to have been very industriously occupied in visiting galleries and laboratories, and all you tell me of the latter
interests me very much. I am particularly interested in what you say of the possibility of having x-ray cryatallograms made
of your oxyhaemoglobin crystals.
Wright at St. Mary's stands a good deal alone, I fear - he and his little group of disciples. He is an extra-ordinary
man, brilliant; but it is I suppose questionable whether the methods he personally employs so well are sufficiently quantitative
to be generally applied. It may indeed very well be that in some modified form they will come into use in time.
In the meantime, the base of immunology is changing somewhat. It is drawing more heavily on chemistry - organic and physical
- as you well know, and new phenomena, such as bacteriphage, etc. bring about new points of view and directions of work.
It is perhaps as well that we are diverse in our interests, for in this way different things and methods come to be tested
and progress is accelerated.
By this time you have moved further on, to the continent probably. I can imagine how full of interest you, your wife, and
sister-in-law find all your experiences. I hope you all remain well. My wife and I send you all very warm regards.