Philip Showalter Hench was born February 28, 1896.
Hench attended Lafayette College in Easton, Pennsylvania, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in 1916.
He then joined the U.S. Army and served the remainder of World War I in the Medical Corps. After the war in December of 1918, Hench served in the reserve corps receiving medical training with the United States Army Medical Corps and the University of Pittsburgh. He was awarded a doctorate in medicine from the University of Pittsburgh in 1920.
Immediately after finishing his medical degree, Hench spent a year as an intern at St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh before joining the Mayo Clinic. He went on to become a Fellow of the Mayo Foundation in 1923, working in the department of Rheumatic Diseases. Hench focused his work on arthritic diseases, becoming head of the department of Rheumatology in 1926.
His observations led Hench to hypothesize that steroids alleviated pain associated with arthritis.
Hench married Mary Kahler in 1927, whose father John Henry Kahler, was a friend of Mayo Clinic founder William J. Mayo. Hench and Mary raised four children, two daughters and two sons.
In 1928 and 1929, Hench furthered his education at Freiburg University and the von Müller Clinic in Munich, Germany.
Starting in 1937, Hench took an interest in Yellow Fever and began to document the history behind the discovery of yellow fever.
During his career, Hench was one of the founding members of the American Rheumatism Association, and served as its president in 1940 and 1941.
Hench then served again in the U.S. Army Medical Corps during World War II.
Years earlier at the Mayo Clinic, biochemist Edward Calvin Kendall had isolated several steroids from the adrenal gland cortex.
After years of work, Hench and Kendall decided to try one of these steroids (dubbed Compound E at the time, later to be named cortisone) on patients afflicted by rheumatoid arthritis.
Testing of the hypothesis was initially delayed because the synthesis of Compound E was costly and time-consuming.
The duo conducted their tests successfully during 1948 and 1949.
Hench, along with Edward Calvin Kendall and Swiss chemist Tadeus Reichstein were awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1950 for the discovery of the hormone cortisone, and its application for the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis.
The Nobel Committee bestowed the award for the trio’s “discoveries relating to the hormones of the adrenal cortex, their structure and biological effects.”
Hench’s Nobel Lecture was directly related to the research he was honored for, and titled “The Reversibility of Certain Rheumatic and Non-Rheumatic Conditions by the Use of Cortisone Or of the Pituitary Adrenocorticotropic Hormone”.
His speech at the banquet during the award ceremony acknowledged the connections between the study of medicine and chemistry, saying of his co-winners “Perhaps the ratio of one physician to two chemists is symbolic, since medicine is so firmly linked to chemistry by a double bond.”
In addition to the Nobel Prize, Hench had been awarded the Heberdeen Medal (1942), the Lasker Award (1949), the Passano Foundation Award (1950), and the Criss Award. Lafayette College, Washington and Jefferson College, Western Reserve University, the National University of Ireland and the University of Pittsburgh also awarded Hench honorary doctorates.
Hench died March 30, 1965 of pneumonia while on vacation in Ocho Rios, Jamaica.
Hench’s collection of documents on Yellow Fever today are at the University of Virginia in the Philip S. Hench Walter Reed Yellow Fever Collection. His wife donated the collection to the university after his death.
Now WE know em