Albert Schat, Ph.D.
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Biography of Albert Schatz

Albert Schatz was a 23 year-old graduate student working on his Ph.D. at Rutgers University when he discovered streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis. This disease killed over a billion people in the last two centuries and was responsible for the death of more people throughout history than all other infectious diseases combined. Streptomycin was also the first effective treatment for bubonic plague, known as The Black Death, tularemia, brucellosis and other serious infectious diseases for which there had been no effective treatment. Streptomycin has saved millions of lives, and many people personally thanked Professor Schatz for having saved their lives.

Albert Schatz was born in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1920, and grew up in Passaic, New Jersey. He spent a lot of his early years on his grandparents' farm in Bozrah, Connecticut. Until the end of his life, he took great pride in all the experiences he had and the skills he learned on the farm. He could sharpen many kinds of tools, fix almost anything, milk a cow, and warm himself under his bear skin blanket from the days the family farm used a horse and sleigh in winter to take the cans of milk to the main road. "Eat it up. Wear it out. Make it do. Do without." was the motto his family used to help survive the depression of the late 20's and 30's.

He graduated from Passaic High School in 1938 and was able to go to college because his father received a World War I bonus check. His love for the soil that began in his early years on the farm led him to choose the College of Agriculture at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey. He was elected to Phi Beta Kappa in his junior year and was "top man" in his class when he graduated in May 1942. He immediately began graduate work in the Soil Microbiology laboratory of Dr. Selman A. Waksman at the Rutgers College of Agriculture.

He was drafted into the Medical Corps of the Air Force in November 1942. It was there that he became aware of the tragic deaths of soldiers who had gram negative bacterial infections that were not treatable by penicillin or sulfa drugs – the only antibiotics available at that time. "I saw servicemen dying of these infections. They were men my own age. I got to know them," Schatz said.

When he was not working as a bacteriologist at the Air Force hospital where he was stationed, he devoted all of his spare time to the search for an antibiotic against gram negative organisms. He was discharged from the Air Force in June, 1943, because of a back injury and returned to Rutgers to resume his graduate work. He refocused his work so he could continue the search for an antibiotic that would be effective against gram negative infections.

Shortly after Albert Schatz resumed his graduate work, Drs. H. Corwin Hinshaw and William Feldman of the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, asked Dr. Waksman to look for an antibiotic against tuberculosis. Dr. Waksman was reluctant to take on the search because of the virulent nature of the organism. But Schatz had seen the tragic deaths of neighbors consumed by tuberculosis. "When I was a boy," he reflected later, "I knew children at school and neighbors who had tuberculosis. I saw them lose weight and waste away. None of them could go to a sanatorium, so they remained home, coughed and infected others." Schatz agreed to add the search for a cure for tuberculosis to his ongoing research.

When Prof. Waksman received a test tube with the virulent strain of human tuberculosis from the Mayo Clinic, he gave the test tube to Schatz. He then isolated Schatz in a basement laboratory – far away from the safety of his third floor office and laboratory.

Dr. Schatz in the laboratory at Rutgers University

Schatz felt an "overwhelming compulsion" to find a cure for both tuberculosis and gram negative bacterial infections. "I generally began my work between five and six in the morning and continued until midnight, or even later. I was isolating and testing everything I could find." Even though Schatz worked under very primitive laboratory conditions which would not be acceptable today, he was extremely careful, and took great pride in the fact that no one in the building contracted tuberculosis.

"On October 19, 1943, at about 2 PM, I realized I had a new antibiotic." Schatz said. In just three and a half months of research, he found an antibiotic that was effective against tuberculosis and infections caused by gram negative bacteria. He named the antibiotic streptomycin, and sealed a test tube with the organism that produced it to take home to his family. This test tube is now on permanent exhibit at the Smithsonian Institute.

He then worked day and night to produce enough streptomycin for the first toxicity tests in guinea pigs that were performed at the Mayo Clinic. He did set aside a little bit of time to go walking with Vivian Rosenfeld, a student at the adjacent New Jersey College for Women. They married in March of 1945. Schatz received his Ph. D. in 1945, two and a half years after beginning his graduate work.

Dr Schatz did research in many areas for more than half a century. He was invited to lecture in the U.S., Canada, England, Switzerland, Germany, Sweden, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Bulgaria, Hungary, Chile, Argentina, Brazil, and the Dominican Republic.

Dr. Schatz initiated research which led to the discovery of Nystatin, an antibiotic which controls fungus and yeast infections, when he was working at the New York State Department of Health in Albany in 1946. He and Dr. Nick Cheronis studied the role of chelation in the formation and fertility of soils when he taught biology at Brooklyn College from 1949 to 1952. The field research for this work was carried out on the farm owned by former Secretary of Agriculture and vice-president Henry Wallace.

Dr. Schatz then worked at the National Agricultural College in Doylestown, Pennsylvania (now Delaware Valley College), where he developed the proteolysis-chelation theory of dental carries with Drs. Charles Bodecker and Joseph J. Martin. At the same time, he began writing and lecturing about the toxic effects of fluoride in drinking water.

He was head of bacteriology at the Philadelphia General Hospital from 1960 to 1962. Then he accepted an appointment at the University of Chile from 1962 to 1965 where he was associated with the Faculties of Medicine, Chemistry and Pharmacy, Agronomy, Odontology, and Philosophy and Education. He also helped organize research projects and worked with people in the Chilean Ministry of Health, Agronomy and Education, and with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Food and Agriculture Organization.

He was a professor of Science Education at Washington University in Clayton, Missouri, from 1965 to 1969. He and his family returned to Philadelphia in 1969 where he was a professor of science education at Temple University until he retired in 1981.

During his tenure at Temple, he wrote many articles called "Do It Yourself Science" which were published in the Philadelphia Tribune and La Actualidad. He was a consultant in Science Education for the Pennsylvania Department of Science Education and the School District of Philadelphia.

Dr. Schatz was awarded the Rutgers University Medal in 1994 for his role in the discovery of streptomycin. The Society for Industrial Microbiology also acknowledged him for that contribution in 1994 as did the American Thoracic Society. He received honorary degrees and was named an honorary member of scientific, medical and dental societies in Europe, Latin America and the United States. In November, 1965, the University of Chile awarded him an Honorary Degree (Miembro Academico) for his contributions to that country. He has honorary degrees from four other Latin American countries. He published three books and more than 700 articles.

Everywhere, he was admired for his warmth, kindness and wonderful sense of humor. He was always available to help his students in any way he could. His deep concern for humanity was evident throughout his life.

This biography was written and/or edited by Vivian Schatz (widow), Linda Schatz (daughter), Carl Sigmond (grandson), and Mary Brewster.