Richard Hawkins

Richard Hawkins

I began schooling in Greenwich Connecticut, where I was born, then moved with my family to San Diego, attended the excellent public schools there, and earned a BSc degree in biology from San Diego State College in ‘63. 

I spent ’63-‘64 as instructor of Biology at SDSC whereupon I had the good luck to meet Prof. A. Baird Hastings, who had recently retired as the Head of Biochemistry at Harvard University.  Prof. Hastings took me into his laboratory at the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla, and encouraged me to apply to Harvard to study toward the PhD in biochemistry.  Several things happened in 1964.  Harvard accepted me, I married the love of my life (Enriqueta Elias) and then packed everything we owned into a Volkswagen and drove to Cambridge to enter the Medical Sciences Program as a biochemistry student.  Biochemistry was interesting, but physiology was much more exciting to me so I switched to physiology after the first year.  I studied purine transport and metabolism in leukocytes under the guidance of Richard Berlin, had two children (Richard ’66 and Paul ’68) and completed the PHD in physiology in the Medical Sciences Program in ‘69. 

I was still interested in physiological biochemistry and was fortunate to be accepted as a postdoctoral fellow in the laboratory of Prof. Sir Hans Krebs in Oxford, UK.  After two very happy years in Oxford, where my most notable, and quoted, publications were on ketone bodies, it was time to return to the USA.

Richard Veech kindly had a spot for me at St Elizabeths Hospital in Washington as Staff Fellow in Neurochemistry.  It was there, along with Alexander Miller and Jill Cremer, that I published the first method to quantitatively measure the cerebral metabolic rate in rats using [2-14C]glucose.  The method subsequently was adapted to autoradiography.  It was also in Veech’ s lab that we published a much quoted article on ammonia metabolism stimulating further future work on ammonia.

The following two years, spent as Chief of the Physical Science Branch in the Medical Devices division of the FDA, was not a time of much scientific investigation. It was, however, a useful time to learn the elements of administration and study Washington, its politics and the way it works.  Nevertheless, I longed for laboratory science and left the FDA in ’76.

Moving from the security of the Federal Government to become Associate Professor at New York University Medical School on “soft money” was a wonderful opportunity.  At NYU there were several studies of midbrain lesion of the reticular formation applying the new  [2-14C]glucose method to important clinically related problems.  My dream at the time was to reconstruct metabolic data obtained in brain studies in 3-D so I moved to the relatively new Penn State University Medical Center that had all the wherewithal necessary.

Hershey was wonderful.  I was awarded the position of Professor  with tenure -- my climb up the academic ladder was over!  The Department of Anesthesia was ideal with laboratories, equipment and supplementary research funds.  Most important the Chair, Julien Biebuyck, MBsc, DPhil, had a strong interest in science and we were friends having been postdoctoral fellows at Oxford together.  It was a tranquil period of investigation.  Our most significant work was on the mechanism of hepatic encephalopathy, the transport of essential nutrients across the blood brain barrier and the computer assisted 3-D reconstruction of metabolic data from autoradiographic data.  The latter accomplishment, published in the American Journal of Physiology, was so catching that it appeared on the cover for many years. 

I took a sabbatical during the ‘85-‘86 academic year with Floyd Bloom at the Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation.  Floyd generously provided me what I needed -- few duties and time to spend writing scientific articles and grant proposals.  During that year of reflection I came to the conclusion that I was ready for a change.

When in ‘87 I was offered the chair of Physiology at The Chicago Medical School I did not hesitate.  I served five enjoyable years as Chair, five as Executive Vice President of Academic Affairs and Chief Academic Officer, and finally 5 years as President and Chief Executive Officer.  While the years I spent in executive positions were stimulating, it was science that I most enjoyed.  Throughout the years of administration I maintained a laboratory, grant support and continued my research without interruption.  The most important accomplishments were showing that hepatic encephalopathy was reproduced by hyperammonemia in otherwise normal rats.  Further, that hepatic encephalopathy could be mitigated or prevented by blocking glutamine synthetase.  Around the same time my colleague Darryl Peterson and I developed a method to study the blood brain barrier by separating the luminal and abluminal membranes.  This allowed the discovery of many transporters, especially on the abluminal side hitherto unknown.

Retirement remains for the future, at present I continue full-time as Professor with the customary duties.