Robert Crane, biochemist who created oral rehydration therapy (ORT), dies

Dr. Robert Crane in 2009

Dr. Robert Kellogg Crane, a biochemist whose discoveries about how salt and sugar are absorbed by the body led to the development of oral rehydration therapy (ORT), has died on 31 October 2010 at the age of 90.

ORT is used to treat people, especially children, with diarrhoea and cholera and has been credited with saving millions of lives, particularly in developing countries.

Dr. Crane was researching metabolism at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis when he discovered that sodium and glucose are most efficiently absorbed in the small intestine when mixed. The breakthrough was described in 1978 as “potentially the most important medical advance this century” by The Lancet.

For the Living History of Physiology project of the American Physiological Society, Dr. Crane describes the first time he presented the principles behind ORT:

On August 24, 1960 in a lecture presented at Prague during a Symposium on Membrane Transport and Metabolism I proposed for the first time anywhere that the fluxes of an ion and a substrate could be coupled by combining with the same reversible transport carrier in the cell membrane. In the intestinal epithelial cells that I was studying the ion was sodium and the substrate was glucose. Because of the coupling, glucose accumulation to high levels in the cells, i.e. active transport, was seen to be powered by the ATP-driven efflux of sodium ions elsewhere.

Below is a photocopy of what Dr. Crane drew for his notes on that day and displayed to the audience as he gave his talk.

Photocopy of Robert Crane’s notes for the proposal of flux coupling between Na ions and glucose in the mucosal cells of the small intestine.

Mr. Crane held a doctorate in medical sciences from Harvard. He was chairman of the biochemistry department at the Chicago Medical School and the Department of Physiology and Biophysics at the Rutgers Medical School.

Related information: Wikipedia – Oral rehydration therapyRobert K.  Crane

Source: The Tennessean, 25 Nov 2010

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