In Memoriam: Nobel Prize Winner George Palade, Established Cell Biology at Yale

Dr. George E. Palade, a Nobel Prize-winning scientist who founded the Section of Cell Biology at the Yale School of Medicine, died on Oct. 8 at his home in Del Mar, California. He was 96 years old.

“Dr. Palade was a giant in 20th century scientific research and was largely responsible for establishing cell biology as a modern discipline,” said Medical School Dean Dr. Robert Alpern.

Beginning in the 1940s, Palade pioneered the use of electron microscopy and other techniques to discover tiny structures within cells and to discern their functions. He discovered the ribosome, the cell’s protein-making factory, and helped explain the way proteins are transported out of the cell, as when a pancreatic cell secretes insulin, for example. Such discoveries later proved useful in understanding diseases and in the protein production that is the basis of the biotechnology industry.

Palade shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 with Albert Claude and Christian de Duve.

Born in Romania, Palade received his medical degree from the School of Medicine of the University of Bucharest, Romania. He was a member of the faculty of that school until 1945, when he came to the United States for postdoctoral studies. Palade joined Claude at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in 1946 and was appointed assistant professor there in 1948. He was later named a full professor and head of the Laboratory of Cell Biology.

In 1973, he moved to Yale, where he established the Section of Cell Biology. Palade held the Sterling Professorship of Cell Biology from 1975 to 1983, when the section, upon his retirement as chair, became the Department of Cell Biology. The same year he was named senior research scientist, professor emeritus of cell biology and special adviser to the dean.

In 1990, at age 77, Palade became the first dean for scientific affairs at the School of Medicine at the University of California-San Diego. He retired in 2001. The school named a building for him in 2004, and a professorship was endowed in his name in 2006.

Palade won many awards in addition to the Nobel, including the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award and the National Medal of Science. As the only Nobel laureate from Romania, he was well known and honored in that country.

Palade also trained scores of scientists. One of his postdoctoral researchers, Dr. Marilyn Farquhar, became his wife in 1970. The two maintained independent laboratories and scientific careers, though they sometimes collaborated.

In a remembrance they prepared in Palade’s honor, his Yale colleages Dr. James D. Jamieson, Dr. Pietro De Camilli and Dr. Michael J. Caplan wrote: “For those of us who knew him at the Rockefeller and then at Yale, and regardless of whether we worked with him directly or not, it was always a great privilege to be part of his entourage. Our school has benefited in countless ways from his intellect, warmth, wisdom, vision and leadership. Dr. Palade was a consummate mentor, teacher, scientist and role model. He inspired so many students, postdocs and faculty to ask important questions and to teach according to the wonderful example that both he, and his wife Dr. Marilyn Farquhar, set for all of us. His loss is profound.”

In addition to his wife, Palade is survived by two children from an earlier marriage, Georgia Van Dusen of Manhattan and Philip Palade, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock; two stepchildren, Douglas Farquhar and Bruce Farquhar, both of San Diego; and two granddaughters.