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James Augustine Shannon

  • National Medal of Science
  • Biological Sciences

For outstanding leadership in biomedical research following an earlier career in distinguished laboratory investigation of kidney function and antimalarial drugs.

Your kidneys – two bean-shaped organs located below your rib cage – each contain about a million units called nephrons. As the blood enters the structure, it is cleaned by the glomerulus, a filter that allows waste products to pass through, eventually producing urine. Measuring the rate at which this filtration occurs can distinguish a healthy kidney from one bound for renal failure.

The understanding of this process is primarily the work of James Augustine Shannon, a New York University faculty member with an affinity for the body’s waste management system. During World War II, Shannon was pulled away from his kidney research to lead the development of new antimalarial drugs amidst a shortage of the drug quinine, produced mostly in southeast Asia – an area that had been conquered by the enemy Japanese.

The end result, a drug called “chloroquine,” saved thousands of lives, later becoming a treatment of choice for the mosquito-borne disease.