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John Clements

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John Clements
(1923 - )
Born in the United States
Year of Discovery: 1959

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Image Courtesy: Lasker Foundation

Found Missing Substance in Lungs of Premature Babies - Led to Many Lives Saved!


Some young men like football, others like politics, and still others prefer the fine arts. John Clements liked chemistry. Attending Cornell on a scholarship, he found its rigorous chemistry program to be “immense fun.” But the events of World War II soon altered the course of his life. Clements volunteered for an accelerated program at Cornell Medical College and earned his medical degree in 1947. Then, in the early 1950s, he again volunteered his services – this time to the Army Chemical Center in Maryland. It was here Clements was thrust into studying the impact of chemical warfare agents, an area that first sparked his interest in the surface tension of the lungs. This experience proved to be critical to his later discovery of surfactant. This is the substance in the lungs’ airspaces that allows them to remain expanded when they exhale. Surfactant is missing in premature babies and this causes respiratory distress syndrome (RDS). Clements’ discovery laid the groundwork for the development of a surfactant replacement therapy for premature infants.

Premature babies, especially those born before 28 weeks gestation, are often unable to produce their own surfactant. Prior to Clements’ discovery, doctors were at a loss as to how to treat these infants, and often watched helplessly as the infants struggled for breath and then died. Clements’ discovery of surfactant led to the development of replacement therapy for premature infants and has been credited with saving over 830,000 lives.

Clements did not choose to study lungs. He was assigned the task of determining the impact of nerve gas on the lungs when he worked for the army. This set the stage. He was fascinated with his work, especially the aspect of the surface tension of the lungs. After the war ended there was still funding in place, and Clements and others enthusiastically pursued their research. Clements set up a rigorous protocol to study the lungs’ surface tension.. He measured the surface tension of the lung both when it was expanded, as in inhalation, and when it was compressed, as in exhalation. Clements, like many scientific pioneers, had to make due. When he wanted to study the dynamic aspects of the lungs’ surface tension, there was no suitable experimental equipment. So he improvised, creating a crude device that was described by one medical historian as being “made from sealing wax, chewing gum, string and other odds and ends.”  It was this ingenious design that led to his discovery of surfactant. Once Clements identified surfactant, other physicians and researchers joined in his enthusiasm. This led to new treatments for RDS, including the development of respiratory ventilation machines that provided support during exhalation as well as inhalation. This allowed the tiny alveoli to remain open. Clements later produced the first synthetic surfactant approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for clinical use. Several other replacement surfactants have been produced thanks to Clements’ discovery, and infant deaths due to respiratory distress syndrome have plummeted.
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Introduction by Tim Anderson

 



Table of Contents

Bookcoverjacket

Introduction
Links to More Information About the Scientist

Key Insight

Key Experiment or Research

Key Contributors
Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist

Anecdotes

Fun Trivia About The Science

The Science Behind the Discovery

Personal Information

Science Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist

Awards

Major Academic Papers

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject

Sources

 








Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

The University of California San Francisco interview with Clements (pdf):
http://www.dahsm.medschool.ucsf.edu/oralHistory/archival/pdf/clements.pdf

FASEB Journal article detailing Clement's role in discovering surfactant:
http://www.fasebj.org/cgi/content/full/18/13/1624e

Wikipedia discussion of pulmonary surfactant:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulmonary_surfactant




Sliders & Images here




Image Flow Here




Key Insight




Key Experiments or Research

 



Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.
Lifesavers: Surfactant
Mary Ellen Avery
Completed research on surfactants that saved babies with Respiratory Distress Syndrome.
Tetsuro Fujiwara
Developed a successful surfactant delivery method to treat Respiratory Distress Syndrome.




Quotes by the Scientist




Quotes About the Scientist




Anecdotes




Fun Trivia About the Science




The Science Behind the Discovery



Personal Information



Scientific Discovery Timeline




Recommended Books About the Science




Books by the Scientist




Books About the Scientist

 



Awards




Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist



Curriculum Vitae



Links to Information on the Science





Sources/References