Photo of Efraim Racker

Efraim Racker

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For major contributions to understanding the subcellular mechanism whereby oxidative and photosynthetic energy is transformed into the specific form of chemical energy used by living cells.

Efraim Racker – “Ef” to his friends and family – finished medical school final exams at the University of Vienna the same day Adolf Hitler’s army marched into the city, banning Jews from the school.

Racker, a Polish Jew, fled for Great Britain to conduct research on energy metabolism of the brain at Cardiff City Mental Hospital before moving to the United States in 1941.

At New York University’s medical school, he discovered “thioester high-energy intermediate,” a bond previously unknown to scientists.

The compound plays an integral part in the process by which energy is transferred to cells for metabolism.

In 1959, Racker and his team discovered that cancer cells have 10 times more sugar-fermenting enzymes as normal cells, a revelation that helped scientists understand how to treat tumors.

“Rejoice when other scientists do not believe what you know to be true,” he wrote. “It will give you extra time to work on it in peace.