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Starting with SerotoninWhat reviewers said about

"ANN SJOERDSMA'S book should be read by anyone with a sense of history for our field. Interspersed throughout the book are quotes and reminiscences by Al Sjoerdsma. In those you will still find a spirited and opinionated individual . . . [I] have the utmost respect for him as a scientist.”

PETER L. BONATE, Ph.D., director of clinical pharmacology, GlaxoSmithKline, in Research Triangle Park, N.C., Journal of Clinical Pharmacology, book reviews at www.accp.org, June 2009.

Ann Sjoerdsma "has produced an intelligent, subtle, and often amusing portrait of an exceptional scientist, as well as a remarkable account of the pioneering historical context of the 1960s in biomedical science. This brilliant biography is easy to read and very accessible: the story unfolds, the years pass by, the scientific and human leads interconnect, sparks fly—a new drug, a new challenge. A comprehensive index facilitates referencing.

"An ability to bring to life the hectic transitional decades between the 1940s, 'when a doctor could practice medicine with just ten drugs in his bag,' and the end of the century, with molecular biology, strict rules for clinical trials, finance, and marketing, is a strong point of the book. Another is the description of the admirable life of a genial outsider who was situated at the very heart of the development of pharmacology."

GISELE PICKERING, M.D., Dept. of Clinical Pharmacology, Faculty of Medicine, University Hospital, Clermont-Ferrand, France, as reviewed in Clinical Pharmacology & Therapeutics 85 (March 2009): 234-35.

Starting with Serotonin “is about the great drug discoveries that were made by the legendary Albert Sjoerdsma and his team beginning in the 1950s. The first discoveries were made at the Experimental Therapeutics Branch of the National Heart Institute in Bethesda, Maryland, which became famous under Sjoerdsma’s leadership, and later discoveries were made at the research laboratories of Richardson-Merrell in Strasbourg, France. . . .

"Throughout the book, author Ann Sjoerdsma gives us insight into the scientific and private lives of her father and his team, who were known as ‘the Wild Bunch.’ She interviews her father and many members of his team and gives historical background on the various fields that Albert Sjoerdsma explored.

“This unique book is written in clear and vital prose, which allows nonscientists to enter the world of medical science. It enables them to understand the hard work scientists must do in the laboratory to obtain the data they need to develop concepts, their urge to resolve the mechanisms that underlie diseases, and their hope of discovering new drugs. This book opened the world of Albert Sjoerdsma to me, and it has enriched my life.”

KJELL FUXE, M.D., Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden, as reviewed in The New England Journal of Medicine 359 (Dec. 11, 2008): 2622.

Starting with Serotonin “chronicles the life of Albert Sjoerdsma, a major contributor to the era of clinically directed science and therapeutic drug development from the mid-1950s through the early 1990s. . . . [T]he book tells of Sjoerdsma’s groundbreaking work in the field of clinical pharmacology, starting with the neurotransmitter serotonin . . . [and] progresses to describe Sjoerdsma’s contributions to our knowledge of catecholamines and antihypertensive drugs and his exploratory clinical pharmacological work in many other important areas. . . . In some ways, Ann [Sjoerdsma] provides a glimpse of not just a man but a scientific era. . . .

“Sjoerdsma followed a philosophy of undertaking research in multiple new directions simultaneously. He recruited young scientists of merit who were open to new ideas, choosing not to confine them to an already-developed research project. . . .

“The book will appeal to scientists with broad clinical research interests, not just those working on serotonin. Sometimes Sjoerdsma’s clever, hypothesis-based ideas (which would perhaps now be considered grant-worthy), after experimental investigation, just ‘never really held up’—a not unfamiliar scenario that experienced scientists have likely found themselves in; they may thus find encouragement in the fact that with Sjoerdsma’s successes also came failures. There is a lot to be learned from this chronicle of this expert clinical scientist’s experiences, during his periods both as a member of the ‘wild bunch’ of NIH clinical pharmacologists and as a scientist working in the drug development industry.”

DENNIS L. MURPHY, M.D., Laboratory of Clinical Science, National Institute of Mental Health, as reviewed in The Journal of Clinical Investigation 118 (Dec. 1, 2008): 3819.

“. . . I devoured the book in a little over 2 days so it certainly holds one’s interest. . . . [Ann Sjoerdsma’s] grasp of the science involved is impressive and she is meticulous in correctly attributing several major discoveries to European scientists, even when American confirmatory work followed soon thereafter. . . .

“Would I recommend this book to clinical pharmacologists? Undoubtedly. It details a time which has now passed but which contributed so much to our current knowledge and which can still teach us much about rational drug discovery. Whether I would have enjoyed working for this illustrious man I am not so sure. He was rude, abrupt and irascible with many, but I am sure I would have admired him and his fine intellect and it was clear he was loyal to those whom he felt deserved his support.”

A. RICHARD GREEN, M.D., School of Biomedical Sciences, University of Nottingham Medical School, United Kingdom, as reviewed in British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology 66 (Dec. 2008): 903-4.

“The author leads us through the milestones of Sjoerdsma’s scientific career, through the rough and tumble at the National Institutes of Health to a top post at Richardson-Merrell, using interviews with her father, his friends and colleagues. The text is interspersed with quotations that act as an effective, humorous and occasionally cynical commentary on events . . . Sjoerdsma often appears as a man who didn’t suffer fools gladly, but then shows another more humanitarian side to his character with his development of a cure for a debilitating tropical disease.”

GEOFFREY EDWARDS, Ph.D., Dept. of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, School of Biomedical Sciences, The University of Liverpool, UK, as reviewed in Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (online Nov. 2008, at www.elsevierhealth.com/journals/trst).

Sjoerdsma “played to win, not to get rich. . . . Read [Starting with Serotonin] for the strategy . . . and the passion for competition.”

NATHANIEL COMFORT, Ph.D., Institute of the History of Medicine, Johns Hopkins University, as reviewed in Nature 454 (Aug. 2008): 826-7.


Pre-publication praise for the book:

Starting with Serotonin “gives a marvelous insight into the NIH in its heyday—the twenty golden years that Al Sjoerdsma was there. It is a superb account of the early stages of clinical pharmacology, of its present status, and of the drug discovery process in pharma before it became ‘Big Pharma.’”

VICTOR A. McKUSICK, M.D., world-renowned “Father of Genetic Medicine” and former chairman of medicine and longtime award-winning professor at Johns Hopkins (Dr. McKusick died July 22, 2008; for access to a tribute in our News Archive, see the bottom of the News page.) 

Starting with Serotonin “is an exciting account of scientific and clinical discoveries by the blunt, tough-talking, iconoclastic Al Sjoerdsma and his colleagues. His daughter brings to life the ideas and personalities behind the experiments, [in particular,] catching the flavor of the NIH in the late 1950s and early 1960s. . . . This is a wonderful book.”

MARSHALL W. NIRENBERG, Ph.D., NIH biochemist and 1968 Nobel laureate in medicine for cracking the genetic code (Dr. Nirenberg died Jan. 15, 2010; see the top of the News Archive on our News page for a tribute.) 

“Ann Sjoerdsma really caught the excitement of her distinguished father’s era at the National Institutes of Health. The 1950s and ’60s were heady times . . . Al’s [later] experience in industry was quite different from mine [and] interesting to read. During his long and productive career, Al trained many young physicians who became the leaders in American clinical pharmacology. He was one-of-a-kind.”

P. ROY VAGELOS, M.D., retired Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Board of Merck & Co. and eminent NIH alumnus (1956-66)

“Ann Sjoerdsma has successfully blended the fascinating story of her illustrious father’s scientific achievements [in wide-ranging] drug research, with an enjoyable historic account of the astounding progress of biomedical science during the second half of the 20th century.”

ARVID CARLSSON, M.D., Ph.D., pharmacologist and 2000 Nobel laureate in medicine for his discoveries about the neurotransmitter, dopamine

Starting with Serotonin is “a compelling description of Dr. Albert Sjoerdsma, the father of modern clinical pharmacology, and his discoveries, told within the full and rich context of the times, and [amid details about] his family, friendships, and leisure . . . Ann Sjoerdsma has produced an intimate portrait of a giant in drug discovery, as well as captured the pulse of a remarkable time in medical history.”

JAMES L. MADARA, M.D., Dean of the University of Chicago Biological Sciences Division and Pritzker School of Medicine

“The intimate insights into nascent translational medicine are fascinating. Al Sjoerdsma was a provocative scientist, an agent of change.”

ELAINE SANDERS-BUSH, Ph.D., Vanderbilt University professor of pharmacology and psychiatry, director of the Vanderbilt Brain Institute, and past president of the American Society for Pharmacology and Experimental Therapeutics

Starting with Serotonin “is a fine and significant book. . . . Ann Sjoerdsma has written a very readable, well-documented, and informative biography of her father, one of the founders of clinical pharmacology and the developer of several important drugs.”

JOHN PARASCANDOLA, Ph.D., retired U.S. Public Health Service Historian and former chief of the History of Medicine Division at the National Library of Medicine


And raves for Sjoerdsma:

Sjoerdsma“. . . Al Sjoerdsma [was] one of the founding fathers of clinical pharmacology. There is a strong case that Al, [during] his partnership with Sidney Udenfriend at the NIH, did more to put clinical pharmacology on a strong scientific footing than anyone else. Basically, they built the links between clinical pharmacology, biochemistry, and medicine. Al’s lab trained almost all of the early leaders of clinical pharmacology in the USA and many elsewhere.”

SIR COLIN DOLLERY, M.D., eminent British clinical pharmacologist, formerly director of the Hammersmith Hospital hypertension clinic in London, now a senior consultant at GlaxoSmithKline

“Among Al’s numerous dimensions is one that lurks beneath the radar. His capacity to stimulate students, post docs, fellows, and colleagues; to inspire them to engage in the romance of discovery; and to imbue them with profound intellectual curiosity tempered by rigor, has been pivotal for innumerable beneficiaries.”

BURTON SOBEL, M.D., NIH alumnus, now director of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of Vermont

“There’s a sixth sense involved in research. There’s an intuition. Al had it.”

DONALD S. ROBINSON, M.D., Ph.D., NIH alumnus and former vice president for clinical research at Bristol-Myers Squibb, now a busy pharmaceutical consultant

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