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R. Bruce Merrifield     


Announcement from the Rockefeller University

Professor Emeritus Bruce Merrifield passed away Sunday, May 14, after a long illness. He was 84.

After receiving his Ph.D. at the University of California, Los Angeles, Dr. Merrifield came to the Rockefeller Institute as an assistant in 1949 in the laboratory of Dr. D. Wayne Woolley. He was made professor in 1966, was named John D. Rockefeller Jr. Professor in 1983 and became emeritus in 1992.

Dr. Woolley had a profound influence on Dr. Merrifield's career. They worked on a dinucleotide growth factor that Dr. Merrifield discovered in graduate school and on peptide growth factors that Dr. Woolley had discovered earlier. These studies led to the need for improved peptide synthesis and eventually to the idea of synthesis on polymeric supports. In 1963, he was sole author of a classic paper in the Journal of the American Chemical Society in which he reported a method he called solid phase peptide synthesis, which is the fifth most cited paper in the journal's history.

Dr. Merrifield earned world renown for the development of this rapid, automated technique, which makes it possible to synthesize peptides and proteins in a matter of days that previously would have taken years to obtain. In the mid-60s Dr. Merrifield's laboratory first synthesized bradykinin, angiotensin, desamino-oxytocin and insulin. In 1969, he and his colleague Bernd Gutte announced the first synthesis of the enzyme, ribonuclease A. This work proved the chemical nature of enzymes.

Dr. Merrifield's method greatly stimulated progress in biochemistry, pharmacology and medicine, making possible the systematic exploration of the structural bases of the activities of enzymes, hormones and antibodies. The development and applications of the technique continued to occupy his laboratory, where he remained active at the bench until recently. In 1993, he published his autobiography, "Life during a Golden Age of Peptide Chemistry."

For his work, Dr. Merrifield received a host of awards, including the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research, the Gairdner Foundation International Award and the 1984 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. In 1972, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Merrifield was a valued and beloved member of the Rockefeller community for nearly 60 years, and he will be greatly missed.

Heartfelt condolences are extended to his wife, Libby Merrifield, a beloved member of our community who worked in his laboratory for 23 years; his children Nancy, James, Betsy, Cathy, Laurie and Sally; his 16 grandchildren; and his many friends and colleagues on campus.

Donations in Dr. Merrifield's name can be made to the American Cancer Society or to the Merrifield Scholarship at Cresskill High School, 1 Lincoln Drive, Cresskill, NJ 07626.

Plans for a memorial tribute for Dr. Merrifield will be announced at a later date.