John R. Brobeck

44th APS President (1971-1972)
John R. Brobeck
(1914 - 2009)

In his past president's address (10) Brobeck identified cycles in medical education and in physiology since the time of Boerhaave in the early eighteenth century. In comparing physiologists with seekers after the mythical unicorn, he predicted that despite the uncertainties occasioned by recent changes in the medical curriculum, the cyclic curve representing the number of unicorn hunters was again on the rise and that physiology would have its renaissance. His closing paragraph is especially relevant to the mission of APS "to promote the increase of physiological knowledge and its utilization" as we look forward to our second century:

"For almost 300 years physiology has been a powerful science. Its strength is drawn in part from the inherent interest of biological mechanisms and processes, but also in part from the utility an understanding of these processes finds in medicine and the related professions. We must not be simplistic about our discipline. Intellectual curiosity does not need to be our only reason for existence. Neither is a practical application enough to insure the perpetuation of the science. The two go together—the history of even our most distinguished forefathers shows that they do. We can well be guided by their experience."

Brobeck's professional career has involved only three institutions, or four if Wheaton (Illinois) College is included. After graduating from college in 1936, he spent three years at the Institute of Neurology of Northwestern University in Chicago, where he received the Ph.D. degree in 1939. He was then able to continue his education at the School of Medicine at Yale University and was awarded an M.D. degree in March 1943. On the first day of April he began an association with John Fulton's Laboratory of Physiology at Yale that continued until 1952, when Brobeck moved to the Philadelphia area as professor and chairman of the Department of Physiology of the School of Medicine of the University of Pennsylvania. He was also chairman of the Graduate Group Committee in Physiology. At that time the university included also another department of physiology in the Graduate School of Medicine. Julius Comroe had made it one of the strongest departments in the country. In 1957, however, Comroe resigned from his positions at Pennsylvania to take up his new responsibilities at the University of California in San Francisco. Two years later, Robert Forster became chairman of this department. Brobeck meanwhile held office in the School of Medicine until 1970. He then resigned so that the two departments could be brought together under Forster's direction. From 1970 until his official retirement in 1982, Brobeck held the title of Herbert C. Rorer Professor in the Medical Sciences.

Brobeck wrote of his training in science and his scientific interests:

"Although my training took place in the laboratories of three world-class scientists, Stephen Walter Ranson at Northwestern University and John Farquhar Fulton and C. N. H. Long at Yale University, the predominant influence on my career as an investigator and teacher was not the heads of the laboratories so much as the younger persons they attracted to work with them. At Northwestern these included principally H. W. Magoun, our preceptor in stereotaxic surgery, and Frank Harrison, George Clark, and Albert W. Hetherington, fellow graduate students. At Yale, where for four years I was a medical student, Jay and Helen Murphy Tepperman, with other students and research fellows, continued my education in experimental science. It was Donald Henry Barron, however, then newly appointed as associate professor of physiology, who most largely contributed to my understanding of the academic life, the responsibilities and opportunities open to teachers of science, and the international community of physiologists. Two other names should be mentioned, although I never worked or published with either. E. F. Adolph of Rochester, through his monograph on Physiological Regulation (1943), turned my interest in that direction. And Merkel H. Jacobs, senior member of this department when I arrived here in 1952, introduced me to membrane phenomena I previously had not considered. Finally, I remain grateful to my teachers at Wheaton (Illinois) College, where my formal training in science began in a Christian context that continues as an important part of my life."

"In celebration of the bicentennial of the founding of what became this school of medicine, in 1965 William S. Yamamoto and I edited Physiological Controls and Regulations, with chapters written mainly by current or former members of our faculty. The introductory chapter, "Exchange, control, and regulation," expressed by own research interests (9). In particular, I have been studying control of energy exchange and energy balance. Having learned from my own observations and the work of other laboratories that stimulation or lesions of the hypothalamus may alter body temperature regulation, food intake, body weight, or motor output, I proposed integration of these several variables into patterns of energy exchange. The basis for the integration might be thermal signals. In adult animals this integration usually leads to a balance between intake and expenditure and consequently to a stable body weight. Publications offering evidence for this proposal began with the first on my bibliography (1) and continued with the Yale series of papers (2-4), with Anand (5, 6), and with the paper with Gladfelter (8). In 1960 and again in 1981, I was given the privilege of summarizing my views on this subject at, first, the Laurentian Hormone Conference (7) and, second, a symposium on The Body Weight Regulatory System: Normal and Disturbed Mechanisms in Italy (10)."

Elected to membership in APS in 1943, Brobeck's first assignment was as chairman of the Education Committee in 1960. From 1963 to 1972 he served as chairman of the Editorial Board of Physiological Reviews. He was elected to Council in 1967 and became president elect in 1970. In 1980 he received the Ray G. Daggs Award. He wrote of his experiences as an office holder of APS:

"It is embarrassing to confess that my first responsibility with the Society was a complete fiasco, and terribly frustrating. In 1960 when I was asked to serve as chairman of the Education Committee, I did not know what the committee was doing, what it should do, or what it might do. Consequently I presided rather vaguely over meetings, while Ray Daggs kept everything in order and managed the several projects the committee had earlier initiated. It was a relief to me, and probably to Ray, when I had to resign to go on sabbatical leave to Taiwan in 1962."

"While I was president in 1971, the Council began to plan how to honor Dr. Daggs on his retirement in 1973 and formally invited Orr E. Reynolds (coeditor of this volume) to continue in his position of education officer and assistant executive secretary, in the expectation that two years later he would succeed Ray in the combined office of executive secretary-treasurer. Conditions of the appointment were summarized in a two-page letter to Orr. In his reply he wrote, simply, "I am very honored by the Society's offer and most pleased to accept the conditions as expressed in your letter." This decision was no doubt the most significant of the years I was associated with the Council and in my judgment one of the most important of the twenty-five years covered by this history of the Society."

Wheaton College has conferred three honors on Brobeck: the Distinguished Service Award of the Alumni Association (1953), a Centennial Award (1959), and the degree doctor of laws (1960). In 1959 he received a Centennial Merit Award from Northwestern University. He is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, the Halsted Society, AAAS (Boston) (1969), and NAS (1975). In 1962-63 he and most of his family, with a grant from the China Medical Board of New York, were able to spend nine months at the National Defense Medical Center in Taipei, Taiwan. They visited also the major medical centers in Korea, Hong Kong, the Philippines, Bangkok, and New Delhi, India.

After he had summarized his training, research interests, and participation in affairs of the APS as noted above, Brobeck concluded by writing that what most of his friends seem to remember about him is that in spring, summer, and fall he rides a bicycle from Swarthmore to the university and that he was born and reared in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

Selected Publications

1. Magoun, H. W., F. Harrison, J. R. Brobeck, and S. W. Ranson. Activation of heat loss mechanisms by local heating of the brain. J. Neurophysiol. 1: 101-114, 1938.

2. Brobeck, J. R., J. Tepperman, and C. N. H. Long. Experimental hypothalamic hyperphagia in the albino rat. Yale J. Biol. Med. 15: 831-853, 1943.

3. Tepperman, J., J. R. Brobeck, and C. N. H. Long. The effects of hypothalamic hyperphagia and of alterations in feeding habits on the metabolism of the albino rat. Yale J. Biol. Med.. 15: 855-874, 1943.

4. Brobeck, J. R., J. Tepperman, and C. N. H. Long. The effects of experimental obesity upon carbohydrate metabolism. Yale J. Biol. Med. 15: 893-904, 1943.

5. Anand, B. K., and J. R. Brobeck. Localization of a "feeding center" in the hypothalamus of the rat. Proc. Soc. Exp. Biol. Med. 77: 323-324, 1951.

6. Anand, B. K., and J. R. Brobeck. Hypothalamic control of food intake in rats and cats. Yale J. Biol. Med. 24: 123-140, 1951.

7. Brobeck, J. R. Food and temperature. Recent Prog. Horm. Res. 16: 439-459, 1960.

8. Gladfelter, W. E., and J. R. Brobeck. Decreased spontaneous locomotor activity in the rat induced by hypothalamic lesions. Am. J. Physiol. 203: 811-817, 1962.

9. Brobeck, J. R. Exchange, control, and regulation. In: Physiological Controls and Regulations, edited by W. S. Yamamoto and J. R. Brobeck. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders, 1965, p. 1-13.

10. Brobeck, J. R. A reconsideration of the "Biological Clock in the Unicorn." Physiologist 15: 327-337, 1972.

11. Brobeck, J. R. Models for analysing energy balance in body weight regulation. In: The Body Weight Regulatory System: Normal and Disturbed Mechanisms, edited by L. A. Cioffi et al. New York: Raven, 1981, chapt. 1, p. 1-9.