Makio Murayama

Year: 1912-2012

Dr. Makio Murayama was a biochemist best known for his work on sickle cell anemia. Murayama was born in San Francisco, but at the age of four was sent to live with relatives in Japan after the death of his father. He returned to San Francisco when he was fourteen and went on to study biochemistry and physics at the University of California, Berkeley. With the outbreak of World War II and the subsequent mass forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, Murayama’s family was sent to the Minidoka, Idaho Concentration Camp. Murayama, however, was invited to Chicago to work as a physicist on a nuclear weapon research initiative, later known as the Manhattan Project. Despite this invitation, he was turned away once his Japanese ancestry was discovered. After the rejection, Murayama renewed his search for employment and found work as a blood chemist at the Children’s Hospital of Michigan. He later received his Ph.D. in immunochemistry at the University of Michigan in 1953 and completed his postdoctoral work at the California Institute of Technology and the University of Pennsylvania. In October 1958, he joined the staff of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland, where he would work for the rest of his career. He engaged in landmark research on sickle cell anemia, which had engaged his interest while working with young patients stricken with the disease in Michigan. Over the next six-year period, he famously built a three-foot tall model of the hemoglobin molecule in his home basement using 70,000 screws to represent atoms. The model helped him gain a clearer understanding of the disease and led to groundbreaking research and a new treatment. According to an article published in The National Institutes of Health (NIH) Record, Murayama’s research allowed scientists to acutely understand the molecular foundations of sickle cell anemia, which could lead to better understanding and treatment of the disease. He gained acclaim and fame for his work, receiving the 1969 Association for Sickle Cell Anemia Award and the 1972 Martin Luther King, Jr. Medical Achievement Award. He continued to work at NIH into the 1980s.

Added Date: 06/26/2022