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NIH Record


Former NICHD Scientific Director Sidbury Mourned

By Robert Bock

Dr. James Sidbury, Jr., 81, died on Feb. 17 in Mount Vernon, Wash., after an extended illness. He was scientific director at NICHD from the mid 1970s until the early 1980s.

"Jim Sidbury was an excellent scientist, a caring pediatrician and a good friend to all of us who knew him," said NICHD director Dr. Duane Alexander. "He will be missed."

Sidbury is most well known for developing a dietary treatment for type I glycogen storage disease, a disorder caused by deficiencies in an enzyme needed for maintaining blood glucose levels. The dietary therapy he developed is now widely used for other glycogen storage diseases, which make up more than 12 inherited disorders caused by abnormalities of the enzymes that regulate glycogen.

Dr. James Sidbury, Jr.

Patients suffering from type I glycogen storage disease have extremely low blood sugar levels, which, if untreated, can lead to coma and death. When Sidbury began studying the disease, patients needed to consume the sugar glucose continuously to keep their blood sugar from plummeting to dangerous levels. Sidbury conceived of treating patients with uncooked cornstarch, which is broken down into glucose very slowly. He and colleague Dr. Y.T. Chen tested the treatment on patients in the Clinical Center. Today, uncooked cornstarch is the standard therapy for patients with all forms of glycogen storage diseases.

After retiring from the institute, Sidbury worked closely with Dr. Janice Chou, chief of the section on cellular differentiation at NICHD. The two collaborated to find the cause of type I glycogen storage disease — mutations in the glucose-6-phosphatase gene. The results of their studies were published in 1993.

Colleague Dr. Anil Mukherjee, head of NICHD's section on developmental genetics, remembers Sidbury as a quiet, unassuming man who would go out of his way to help a friend. "He was the pediatrician's pediatrician," Mukherjee said. "The kids just loved him."

Sidbury was born in Wilmington, N.C., and graduated from Yale University in 1944. He received his medical degree from Columbia University in 1947. After completing his internship and residency training, he practiced pediatrics in Wilmington, N.C., at the Babies Hospital until joining the staff at Johns Hopkins in 1955. He served in the pediatrics department at Duke University Medical Center from 1961 to 1975, when he joined NICHD. After retiring from his position as scientific director in the early 1980s, he served the institute as scientist emeritus until the early 1990s.

He retired to Deale, Md., on the Chesapeake Bay, to pursue his love of sailing, gardening and music. He spent many years on Maryland's Eastern Shore and his family plans to return his ashes there.

Sidbury was married to Alice Lucas Rayle, of Atlanta, Ga. She died in 1977. He is survived by five children, five grandchildren, two sisters, and seven nephews and nieces.

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