Luis Federico Leloir (September 6,1906 – December 2, 1987) was an Argentine doctor and biochemist who received the 1970 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He was the first Spanish-speaking scientist to ever receive the award. Although born in France, Leloir received the majority of his education at the University of Buenos Aires and was director of the private research group Fundación Instituto Campomar until his death in 1987. Although his laboratories were often plagued by lack of financial support and second-rate equipment, his research into sugar nucleotides, carbohydrate metabolism, and renal hypertension has garnered international attention and fame and has led to significant progress in understanding, diagnosing and treating the congenital disease galactosemia. Luis Leloir is buried in La Recoleta Cemetery, Buenos Aires.
During his childhood, the future Nobel Prize winner found himself observing natural phenomenon with particular interest; his schoolwork and readings highlighted the connections between the natural sciences and biology. His education was divided between Escuela General San Martín(primary school), Colegio Lacordaire(secondary school), and for a few months at Beaumont College in England. His grades were unspectacular, and his first stint in college ended quickly when he abandoned his architectural studies that he had begun in Paris' École Polytechnique.
It was during the 1920s that Leloir supposedly invented salsa golf (golf sauce). After being served prawns with the usual sauce during lunch with a group of friends at the Ocean Club in Mar del Plata, Leloir came up with a peculiar combination of ketchup and mayonnaise to spice up his meal. With the financial difficulties that later plagued Leloir's laboratories and research, he would joke, "If I had patented that sauce, we'd have a lot more money for research right now".
After returning again to Argentina, Leloir obtained his Argentine citizenship and joined the Department of Medicine at the University of Buenos Aires in hopes of receiving his doctorate. However, he got off to a rocky start, requiring four attempts to pass his anatomy exam. He finally received his diploma in 1932 and began his residency in the Hospital de Clínicas and his medical internship in Ramos Mejía hospital. After some initial conflicts with colleagues and complications in his method of treating patients, Leloir decided to dedicate himself to research in the laboratory, claiming that "we could do little for our patients... antibiotics, psychoactive drugs, and all the new therapeutic agents were unknown [at the time]".
In 1933, he met Bernardo A. Houssay, who pointed Leloir towards investigating in his doctoral thesis the suprarenal glands and carbohydrate metabolism. Houssay happened to be friends with Carlos Bonorino Udaondo, the brother-in-law of Victoria Ocampo, one of Leloir's cousins. Following the recommendation of Udaondo, Leloir began working with Houssay, who in 1947 would later win the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. The two would develop a close relationship, collaborating on various projects until Houssay's death in 1971; in his lecture after winning the Nobel Prize, Leloir claimed that his "whole research career has been influenced by one person, Prof. Bernardo A. Houssay".
In 1945 Leloir ended his exile and returned to Argentina to work under Houssay at the Instituto de Investigaciones Bioquímicas de la Fundación Campomar, which Leloir would direct from its creation in 1947 by businessman and patron Jaime Campomar. Initially, the institute was composed of five rooms, a bathroom, central hall, patio, kitchen, and changing room. During the final years of the 1940s, although lacking financial resources and operating with very low-cost teams, Leloir's successful experiments would reveal the chemical origins of sugar synthesis in yeast as well as the oxidation of fatty acids in the liver; together with J. M. Muñoz, he produce an active cell-free system, a first in scientific research. It had initially been assumed that in order to study a cell, scientists could not separate it from its host organism, as oxidation could only occur in intact cells. Along the way, Muñoz and Leloir, unable to procure the costly centrifuge needed to separate cell contents, improvised by spinning a tire stuffed with salt and ice.
By 1947 he had formed a team that included Rawell Caputo, Enrico Cabib, Raúl Trucco, Alejandro Paladini, Carlos Cardini y José Luis Reissig, with whom he investigated and discovered why a malfunctioning kidney and angiotensin helped cause hypertension. That same year, his colleague Rawell Caputo, in his investigations of the mammary gland, made discoveries regarding carbohydrate storage and its subsequent transformation into a reserve energy form in organisms.
At the beginning of 1948, Leloir and his team identified the sugar nucleotides that were fundamental to the metabolism of carbohydrates, turning the Instituo Campomar into a biochemistry institution well-known throughout the world. Immediately thereafter, Leloir received the Argentine Scientific Society Prize, one of the many awards he would receive both in Argentina and internationally. During this time, his team dedicated itself to the study of glycoproteins; Leloir and his colleagues elucidated the primary mechanisms of galactose metabolism (now coined the Leloir pathway) and determined the cause of galactosemia, a serious genetic disorder that resulted in lactose intolerance.
The following year, he reached an agreement with Roland Garcia, dean of the Department of Natural Sciences at UBA, which named Leloir, Carlos Eugenio Cardini and Enrico Cabib as titular professors in the University's newly founded Biochemical Institute. The Institute would help develop scientific programs in budding Argentinian universities as well as attract researchers and scholars from the United States, Japan, England, France, Spain, and other Latin American countries.
Following Campomar's death in 1957, Leloir and his team applied to the National Institutes of Health in the United States desperate for funding, and surprisingly was accepted. In 1958, the Institute found a new home in a former all-girls school, a donation from the Argentine government. As Leloir and his research gained greater prominence, further research came from the Argentine Research Council, and the Institute would later become associated with the University of Buenos Aires.
As his work in the laboratory was coming to an end, Leloir continued his teaching position in the Department of Natural Sciences at the University of Buenos Aires, taking a hiatus only to complete his studies at Cambridge and at the Enzyme Research Laboratory in the United States.
In 1983, Leloir became one of the founding members of the Third World Academy of Sciences.
He died in Buenos Aires December 2, 1987 of a heart attack soon after returning to his home from the laboratory, and is buried in La Recoleta Cemetery. Mario Bunge, a friend and colleague of Leloir, claims that his lasting legacy was proving that "scientific research on an international level, although precarious, was possible in an underdeveloped country in the middle of political strife" and credits Leloir's vigilance and will for his ultimate success. With his research in dire financial straits, Leloir often resorted to homemade gadgets and contraptions to continue his work in the laboratory. In one instance, Leloir reportedly used waterproof cardboard to create makeshift gutters in order to protect his laboratory's library from the rain.
Leloir was known for his humbleness, focus and consistency, described by many as a "true monk in science". Every morning his wife Amelia would drive him in their Fiat 600 and drop him off at 1719 Julián Alvarez Street, location of Fundación Instituto Campomar, with Leloir wearing the same worn out, gray overalls. He worked sitting on the same straw seat for decades and encouraged colleagues to eat lunch in the laboratory to save time, bringing enough meat stew to share with everyone. Indeed, despite Leloir's frugality and extreme dedication to his research, he was a sociable man, claiming not to like working alone.
The Fundación Instituto Campomar has since been renamed Fundación Instituto Leloir, and has grown to become a building with 20 senior researchers, 42 technicians and administrative personnel, 8 post doctorate fellows, and 20 Ph.D. candidates. The Institute conducts research in a variety of fields, including Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and multiple sclerosis.
|1943||Third National Science Award|
|1958||T. Ducett Jones Memorial Award|
|1965||Bunge and Born Foundation Award|
|1966||Gairdner Foundation Award|
|1967||Columbia University's Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize|
|1968||Benito Juárez Award|
|1968||Honorary Doctorate from Universidad Nacional de Córdoba|
|1968||Argentina Chemistry Association's José Jolly Kyle Award|
|1969||Honorary member of the English Biochemical Society|
|1970||Nobel Prize for Chemistry|
|1971||Legion de Honor “Orden de Andrés Bello”|
|1976||Bernardo O'Higgins en el Grado de Gran Cruz|
|1982||French Legion of Honor|