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The physiology lab: Experimenting with insulin


Studying at the Catholic University of Louvain
Christian de Duve Scientist
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When I was young, coming from the family that I came from, there was only one possible university for me to join that was the Catholic University of Louvain. So I went to study at the Catholic University... I'm sorry I should have said that, but at that time was obvious, no other university was conceivable. So, let’s go back to the story, whatever, I was telling.

[Q] So you'd got to the point...

Yes. So anyway, as I... I said I had discovered science and fallen in love with it.

[Q] And it was difficult to finish your studies?

To finish... it was difficult to finish my studies but I did so. But, another interesting thing was that Bouckaert, who was the head of the physiology lab, had a very strange way of organising his laboratory. He felt that research in his lab should reflect his teaching, and so there should be a group working on each major chapter of physiology. Now how he was able to do that, with the very, very, very small budget that the university... the Catholic University at that time, was extremely poor, it lived on whatever money people gave at... on two Sundays in the churches. It was very poor, it paid its professors very poorly, if anything, because many of the professors actually enjoyed private means and refused to be paid by the university and... not Bouckaert, he wasn't wealthy. And so, I think to some extent his lab was paid by the students, by the medical students because they organised practical classes for the medical students and the medical students had to pay a fee for the practical classes and part of the fee went to... into the research part of the laboratory. Anyway, I think that's how it happened. Anyway, he had... he had several groups, mostly students like myself, but there were two or three senior people who conducted the research. But so he had a group working on heart, he had a group working on kidney, he had a group working on... nerves, the brain, he had a group working on metabolism, he had a group working on diabetes and insulin. It really covered almost the whole field. And so, when I was accepted in the lab I was sort of given the menu and asked which group would I want to join.

Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013) was best known for his work on understanding and categorising subcellular organelles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for his joint discovery of lysosomes, the subcellular organelles that digest macromolecules and deal with ingested bacteria.

Listeners: Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has recently retired as Editorial Director of BioMed Central Ltd, the Open Access journal publisher. He obtained a D. Phil. from Oxford University and was originally a research biochemist at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School in London, but left research to become Biology Editor and then Deputy Editor of the journal Nature. He then became Managing Director of Current Biology Ltd, where he started a series of Current Opinion journals, and was founding Editor of the journal Current Biology. Subsequently he was Editorial Director for Elsevier Science London, before joining BioMed Central Ltd.

Tags: Catholic University of Louvain, Joseph Bouckaert, AV Hill

Duration: 3 minutes, 18 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008