History

The Laboratory of Physiological Chemistry dates back to 1888 being the oldest Biochemistry Institute in the Netherlands. The history of Dutch Biochemistry goes back even further. In 1840 Gerrit Jan Mulder was appointed as Professor of Chemistry in Utrecht. He was the first in the world to work on PROTEINS, a name he coined on the suggestion of Berzelius (protein comes from the Greek word proteos which means first). In 1862 F.C. Donders, working in Mulders laboratory on oxygen binding of hemoglobin, got the chair of Physiology and also started research on Chemical Physiology in a small part of his laboratory. Upon his retirement in 1888 it was decided to create a separate chair for Physiological Chemistry and Cornelis A. Pekelharing became the first Professor of Physiological Chemistry. Pekelharing worked mainly on Thrombin and Pepsin, identifying these enzymes as proteins, a highly debated issue around the turn of the century. He retired in 1918 and was succeeded by Willem E. Ringer, his assistant. Under his supervision a new laboratory was built at the Vondellaan, nr 24A, which was opened by Princess, later Queen, Juliana on October 25, 1935. This building remained the home of Physiological Chemistry until 1994, when the laboratory was torn down and the Department moved to its present location, the Stratenum, at the main University Campus, next to the Academic Hospital.

In 1944 Ringer was succeeded by the chemist Hendrik G.K. Westenbrink, who came from the laboratory of B.C.P. Jansen in Amsterdam. Westenbrink was well known for his work on vitamin B1 (thiamin) and some 50 students finished their PhD under his guidance, 12 of whom became full Professor elsewhere in the Netherlands. He was a key figure in restoring international contacts in the field of Biochemistry in Holland after the second world war and was one of the founders of Biochimica et Biophysica Acta (BBA) in 1947. His sudden death in 1964, only a year after he became Rector Magnificus of Utrecht University, came as a shock to the biochemical community. In 1962 Elisabeth P. Steyn Parvé, Westenbrinks close collaborator, was appointed as Professor of Physiological Chemistry so the chair was doubled. She initiated research on phosphatases using yeast as a model system. One of her collaborators, Thomas H. Rozijn, introduced research on histones and chromatin in yeast, as well as studies on ribosomal RNA and was Professor from 1980 to 1989. Steyn Parvé retired in 1981.

3 years after his untimely death in 1967 the chair of Westenbrink was occupied by Hendrik S. Jansz. He introduced DNA research in the Laboratory as a new line of investigation, with emphasis on DNA replication using the bacteriophage jX174 as a model system. Later he became also involved in studies on structure and expression of calcitonin genes. He appointed John S. Sussenbach as a staff member in 1970 who initiated studies on the replication of adenovirus DNA and became Professor of Molecular Biology in 1980. In the mid 80s Sussenbach focused his attention on the function and expression of insulin like growth factor (IGF) genes. The studies on adenovirus DNA replication were continued by Peter C. van der Vliet who succeeded Steyn Parvé in 1984. He initiated the study of the enzymology of adenovirus DNA replication employing a reconstituted system. Jansz retired in 1992 and was succeeded in 1991 by Johannes (Hans) L. Bos who introduced signal transduction in to the laboratory, with special emphasis on small GTPases like the Ras protein. Currently the Department has four chairs, Hans Bos, Marc Timmers, Boudewijn Burgering and Frank Holstege. In 2010 the name of the department was changed into Molecular Cancer Research.

Locations in Utrecht

1888-1918 Van Asch van Wijkskade

1918-1935 Maliebaan, coachhouse

1935-1994 Vondellaan 24A

1994- Stratenum, Universiteitsweg 100

 

Professors

1888-1918 Pekelharing

1918-1944 Ringer

1946-1964 Westenbrink

1962-1981 Steyn Parvé (later Hulst-Steyn-Parvé)

1967-1992 Jansz

1980-1989 Rozijn

1980-2000 Sussenbach

1984-2007 Van der Vliet

1991- Bos

2001- Timmers

2003- Burgering

2006- Holstege