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Joseph E. Rall Papers 1920-2011
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Biography

Biographical Note

For over 40 years, Dr. Joseph Edward "Ed" Rall (1920-2008) was a leader in the realm of thyroid hormones, thyroid diseases, and their treatment through the use of radioactive isotopes of iodine. His research at the Mayo Clinic at the University of Minnesota and later at the Memorial Sloan Cancer Center in New York City earned him numerous awards and respect nationwide. His "second act" at the National Institutes of Health was just as important where, as scientific director at the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases (NIAMD) and later, as deputy director for intramural research at the renamed National Institute of Arthritis, Diabetes, and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIADDK), he defined NIH's modern intramural program. In addition to his own research, he recruited and mentored many young scientific investigators both nationally and internationally, several of whom would later earn Nobel Prizes for their work.

Joseph Rall was born February 3, 1940 and raised in Naperville, Illinois, a town outside of Chicago, where his father was president of North Central College (which Rall attended.) He later moved and attended Northwestern University, where he earned his M.S. in 1944, his M.D. in 1945, and an early exposure to research. He was not only an excellent student, but also a teaching assistant in pharmacology and research fellow with Carl Dragstedt, working on the parasympathetic nervous system of the heart and upper gastrointestinal tract. The first five of his published papers were based on that work. He later joined the Mayo Clinic, where he was located until 1950 (excluding a brief period with the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War II.)

At the Mayo Clinic, Dr. Rall came under the influence of a group of scientists that started his career in endocrinology and thyroidology. He became involved in some of the very early work on the use of radioactive iodine to study thyroid function. His work earned him a Van Meter Award in 1950 and recruitment to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City where he advanced his work.

In 1955, Rall was recruited to organize and lead a new laboratory, the Clinical Endocrinology Branch, in the newly created National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases of the NIH in Bethesda, Maryland. Within a few years he assembled one of the world's leading centers for the study of the thyroid gland. Alongside fellow scientist Dr. Jacob "Jack" Robbins (whom he first met at Sloan Kettering), Rall introduced hormone treatment to thwart the development of thyroid nodules and cancer from radiation fallout from atomic bomb testing near the Bikini atoll in the Pacific Ocean. In a landmark scientific paper, "Proteins Associated with the Thyroid Hormones", Rall and Robbins surveyed everything known about thyroid hormones in circulation and the effect of binding proteins on the bioactivity of the hormones, and developed the then revolutionary, now classic, hypothesis that it was the free hormone, only a tiny fraction of the total, that was the active molecule. Their expertise in this area was later sought in other occasions, such as preparation for a possible disaster at the nuclear power plant at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania, and following the actual catastrophe at the Chernobyl plant in Russia.

By 1962 (after a brief stint abroad in France and England), Dr. Rall was appointed Director of Intramural Research at the NIAMD (later renamed the NIADDK.) The NIADDK soon became one of the largest and most successful intramural programs at NIH. Rall's extraordinary intellect, understanding of all aspects of science, and his administrative skill and personality, helped him recruit some of the best scientific minds in the country and beyond (especially Italy.) Among them were future Nobel Prize winning scientists Marshall Nirenberg, Christian Anfinsen, and Martin Rodbell.

In 1981 Rall was appointed Acting Deputy Director for Science at NIH and became Deputy Director for Intramural Research in 1983. In 1991, he returned to the lab as Senior Scientist and Scientist Emeritus.

In addition to his central role at NIH, Rall was an active and influential participant in the wider scientific community for many years. Besides his numerous research publications, he was a valued lecturer and contributor to scholarly reviews and textbooks. Among his varied activities, he has served as President of the American Thyroid Association and Editor of the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and of Hormone and Metabolic Research. He was elected to the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Association of American Physicians, the National Academy of Sciences, and multiple honorary degrees at institutions both nationally and internationally.

Outside of work, Rall was a warm and inviting man, who had an excellent command of the English language in both writing and speaking, enjoyed sailing, skiing, skating, and tennis, and loved having parties at a large working farm off the Potomac river that he shared with Dr. Robbins and a few other scientists.

Rall passed away February 28, 2008 at the age of 88.