NIDR's Folk Retires After 44 Years; Named Scientist Emeritus
By Mary Daum
In 1952, Dr. John Folk was a newly minted Ph.D. A native Washingtonian and graduate of Georgetown University, he decided to stay in the area and look for a job locally. So he took particular interest in a response he received from NIDR's Dr. Frank McClure, who answered Folk's "position wanted" ad in Chemical and Engineering News. "I knew the reputation of NIH and had done some work on campus as I was finishing up my studies at Georgetown," Folk said. "I thought it would be the place for me."
After 44 years at NIDR, Folk recently retired. He joined NIDR as an American Dental Association fellow and 13 years later was named chief of the enzyme chemistry section, Laboratory of Cellular Development and Oncology. He retired as the section's chief, but will continue his affiliation with NIDR as a scientist emeritus.
"I think it's very important to have a place where scientists can follow their own leads, explore on their own," said Folk of NIH and his research experience. "I consider it a privilege to be allowed to continue in this way (as scientist emeritus). Who knows," he added laughing, "maybe I'll accomplish something yet."
Much of his earliest work focused on proteolytic enzymology, the study of enzymes involved in digesting or dissolving proteins. In the 1950's, he described an enzyme he called basic carboxypeptidase (later renamed carboxypeptidase B) and observed that it was responsible for the rapid availability of lysine and arginine, two amino acids essential to life. Other research by Folk and his colleagues led to the discovery of the structural features and catalytic mechanisms of additional enzymes vital to the mammalian digestive process. Folk also was instrumental in the development of techniques for locating enzymes in tissues.
During the past three decades, he has described the metabolism of enzymes called transglutaminases and helped to clarify their role. His studies added new information on the function of these enzymes in wound healing and blood clotting and in hair and skin formation.
Of his long career at NIDR, Folk says he's enjoyed his work immensely. He does not have any immediate plans for travel or other typical retirement pursuits, but instead will "stay in the laboratory" as long as possible, doing the work that has fascinated him for over 40 years.
During his tenure at the institute, he has been recognized for his accomplishments with many honors and awards and has served on several study sections, subcommittees, and editorial boards.
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