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Vol. LX, No. 11
May 30, 2008

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Memorial Service To Honor NIDDK’s Daly

  Dr. John W. Daly  
  Dr. John W. Daly  

Dr. John W. Daly, 75, a world renowned leader in chemical ecology, biological chemistry and pharmacology, died of pancreatic cancer Mar. 5.

His colleagues Drs. H. Martin Garraffo, Kenneth Jacobson, Kenneth Kirk and Thomas Spande have planned a “Tribute to John William Daly: A Life Dedicated to Chemistry in Nature,” for Thursday, June 12, from 2 to 5 p.m. in the Natcher conference center. A reception will be held from 5 to 6 p.m. Current and former colleagues and friends and family will gather to celebrate Daly’s 50-year career at NIH.

“We are all contributing to planning this tribute out of respect for the man, his values and achievements—and in gratitude for his influence on our own careers,” said Jacobson. Inspired by the breadth of Daly’s work from 1958 to 2008, Kirk and Jacobson have charted his scientific contributions and respective collaborators to organize the tribute.

Scientist emeritus at NIDDK until his death, Daly was a world authority on amphibian alkaloids and an expert in many areas of natural products. The 26 classes of alkaloids he discovered have had a major impact on knowledge of how the nervous system functions and how drugs interact with the nervous system.

Daly’s research spanned many disciplines and resulted in numerous accomplishments. His discoveries—and adventures in the rainforests of Central and South America, Australia and Madagascar—have been published many times, in hundreds of professional journals and in newspapers and magazines. Daly was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1997 and won numerous awards including the American Chemical Society’s Ernest Guenther Award in the Chemistry of Natural Products in 2002.

Garraffo remembers Daly this way: “He combined in one person a great scientist, the Sean Connery of Medicine Man and the Harrison Ford of Indiana Jones.”

“John, more than any researcher I ever met at NIH, was a rare blend of organic chemist and pharmacologist and there was nothing that didn’t interest him,” recalls Spande, who worked with Daly for 28 years. “John’s greatness is that he knew he had a tiger by the tail with epibatidine, a trace alkaloid from an Ecuadorian frog, and he would not let it go. Most investigators would have dropped the whole project after a few years of ambiguous results, but John persisted.” It paid off. Daly discovered that epibatidine was 200 times more potent than morphine as a painkiller and that it acts not through morphine-sensitive targets, but through receptors for nicotine.

Speakers at the tribute will include colleagues such as Dr. Bernhard Witkop, who recruited Daly to NIH, and others from around the globe. Rounding out the event, Luke Hoch will share “fish stories” about Daly, his long-time fishing partner.

Garraffo turned to his native language to sum up Daly’s influence: “In Spanish, the word ‘maestro’ is used both for teacher and for master. I want to say goodbye to both in John. ¡Adiós al maestro!

Daly is survived by his life partner, Kathleen McKnight and her two children, Stephanie and Eugene; his daughters, Kathryn Daly and Shannon Ostrander; his sister, Hildred Powers; and four grandchildren. NIH Icon

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