Harbin Institute of Technology
Seymour Stanley Cohen was born on 30 April 1917 in Brooklyn, New York. He attended Boys' High School in Brooklyn and then received a B.S. from the City College of New York in 1936. He was married in 1940 to Elaine Pear and later had two children, Michael and Sara. Cohen studied biochemistry with Erwin Chargaff at Columbia University, where he received his PhD in 1941. He had an Abbott Laboratory Fellowship from 1940 to 1941. In his thesis, "The Thromboplastic Protein from Lungs," Cohen focused on the isolation of thromboplastin from beef lung and the chemical and immunological characterization of particles of lipoprotein containing RNA. Cohen had a postdoctoral fellowship at the Rockefeller Institute, where he worked with Wendell M. Stanley on plant viruses from 1941 to 1942, funded by the National Research Council. He returned to Columbia University from 1942 to 1943 as a research associate in biochemistry. While there, he did research for the Office of Scientific Research and Development. In 1943, Cohen left New York for a Johnson Foundation fellowship at the University of Pennsylvania. In 1945, he became Instructor in Pediatrics at the University of Pennsylvania's Children's Hospital and was subsequently named Assistant Professor of Biochemistry in Pediatrics in 1947. Cohen received a Guggenheim Fellowship during the next year, which he used to study at the Pasteur Institute with André Lwoff and Jacques Monod from September 1947 to August 1948. During the summers of 1951 and 1952, he received a Lalor Foundation fellowship for study at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts. At the University of Pennsylvania, Cohen became Associate Professor of Biochemistry and of Pediatrics in 1950 and then Professor of Biochemistry and of Pediatrics in 1954. During a full career at the University of Pennsylvania, Cohen held two professorships: the American Cancer Society Charles Hayden Professorship of Biochemistry (1957-1971) and the Hartzell Professorship of Therapeutic Research (1963-1971). In addition, he was also Chairman of the Department of Therapeutic Research from 1963 to 1971. During this period, Cohen was a visiting professor at the Radium Institute in 1967, gave the Jesup Lectures at Columbia University in 1967, and was a visiting professor at the Collège de France in 1970. In 1971, Cohen left the University of Pennsylvania for the University of Colorado in Denver, where he became Professor in the School of Medicine (until 1972), as well as the American Cancer Society Professor of Microbiology (until 1976). During the time from 1973 to 1974, Cohen was a Fogarty Scholar at the National Cancer Institute, as well as a Smithsonian Scholar. In 1974, he was a visiting professor at Hadassah Medical School in Israel and at the University of Tokyo. In 1976, Cohen left the University of Colorado for the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he was named Distinguished Professor of Pharmacological Sciences and American Cancer Society Professor. From 1982 to 1983, he was a Guggenheim Fellow at the Pasteur Institute and a Fellow at the National Humanities Center in North Carolina (he also held the latter position in 1985). In 1983, he was a Lady Davis Fellow at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In 1985, Cohen became Emeritus Professor of Pharmacological Sciences at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. He was a Visiting Presidential Scholar at the University of California in San Francisco in 1988. Cohen received many awards and honors during his career. He received the Eli Lilly Award in bacteriology and immunology in 1951 for research on the biochemical relationship between viruses and the cells that they infect. He received the Mead Johnson Award given by the American Academy of Pediatrics in 1952. He received the Newcomb Cleveland Award of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1955 for the best paper presented at the 1955 meeting. The paper, "Molecular Bases of the Parasitism of Some Bacterial Viruses," showed, by studying the metabolic changes in virus infections of bacteria, that molecules of mutant organisms (viruses and bacteria) can be distinguished chemically. Cohen was one of two scientists in the country in 1957 to receive a lifetime grant from the American Cancer Society for support of his continuing research interests. He also received the French Society of Biological Chemists Medal in 1964; the Borden Award of the American Association of Medical Colleges in 1967; an honorary degree from the Université Catholique de Louvain in 1972; the Passano Award in 1974; the Karl August Forster Prize of the Mainz Academy of Science and Letters in 1978; a medal from the Alumni Foundation of the City College of New York in 1978; and an honorary degree from the University of Kuopio in 1982. Furthermore, he was named an honorary citizen of Montpellier, France in 1984, in recognition of his scientific achievements. He was nominated several times for the Nobel Prize and is therefore included among the group of people who hold the "Forty-First Chair" (scientists deemed worthy candidates for the Nobel Prize by the Nobel committee). Cohen was on the editorial boards of Virology from 1955 to 1960; the Journal of Biological Chemistry from 1960 to 1965; Bacteriological Reviews from 1969 to 1973; and the Journal of Bacteriology. He served as Chairman of the Committee on the History of Biology at the Marine Biological Laboratory, as well as Trustee of the Marine Biological Laboratory from 1968 to 1985. He was a member of the board of scientific consultants of the Sloan-Kettering Institute (until 1967) and was Chairman of the Council for Analysis and Projection of the American Cancer Society from 1971 to 1975. Cohen is a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science; an honorary member of the Société Française de Microbiologie and of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts (1972); and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1963), the American Chemical Society, the National Academy of Sciences (1967), the New York Academy of Sciences (1949); the Society of Bacteriology, the Society of Biological Chemists, and the Society of General Physiologists (President, 1968). Cohen's work on bacterial viruses, begun in 1945, was the first systematic exploration of the biochemistry of virus-infected cells and of how viruses multiply. In 1952, he and Gerard R. Wyatt discovered that one of the T-even viruses that infect E. coli contained a new pyrimidine, 5-hydroxymethyl cytosine (HMC), in its DNA, instead of the normal cytosine (C). Later, in 1957, he and Joel G. Flaks found that the enzyme that induced this pyrimidine was not found in uninfected cells. They reasoned that the virus caused the E. coli cell to produce the enzyme that would then induce the formation of HMC. This discovery made it possible to develop drugs that would inhibit the enzymes induced by the virus without harming the healthy cells. Other research during Cohen's career (his bibliography contains over 250 publications) included delineating the phenomenon of thymineless death; developing derivatives of ara-A compound; working on RNA synthesis; studying the effects of polyamines on metabolic systems; and studying plant viruses (including viral cations). Much of his teaching and many of the review papers were concerned with problems of comparative biochemistry and biochemical evolution. Cohen has also published works on the history of science, including an article about Joseph Priestley and Thomas Cooper ("Two Refugee Chemists in the United States, 1794: How We See Them") in the Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society in 1982 and "Balancing Science and History: A Problem of Scientific Biography" in History and Philosophy of the Life Sciences in 1986. Cohen lives in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, where he is currently working on a text on polyamines and on a biography of the chemist, Thomas Cooper.