Makio Murayama

Name Makio Murayama
Born August 10 1912
Died January 8 2012
Birth Location San Francisco
Generational Identifier

Biochemist best known for his work on sickle cell anemia. Makio Murayama (1912–2012) was born in San Francisco, but was sent to live with relatives at age age four upon the death of his father. He was raised in Japan for the next ten years, returning to San Francisco when he was fourteen. After graduating from Lowell High School in 1933, he went on to the University of California where he graduated with bachelor's (1938) and master's (1940) degrees in biochemistry and physics.

With the outbreak of World War II and the subsequent mass forced removal of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, he was called to Chicago to work as a physicist on what would become the Manhattan Project, while his family was sent to an American concentration camp. But he was turned away because of his Japanese ancestry. He eventually found a position as a blood chemist at the Children's Hospital of Michigan and took similar positions at the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan and the Children's Pediatric Service at Bellevue Hospital in New York over the next five years. He went on to finish his Ph.D. in immunochemistry in 1953. He subsequently did postdoctoral work at the California Institute of Technology working the Linus Pauling (1954–56) and at the University of Pennsylvania (1956–58).

In October of 1958, he joined the staff of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, where he would work for the rest of his career. He engaged in landmark research on sickle cell anemia, which had engaged his interest in Michigan where had worked with child patients stricken with the disease. He famously built a three-foot tall model of the hemoglobin molecule over a six-year period in his home basement, using some 70,000 screws to represent atoms, which helped him gain a clearer understanding of the disease and led to groundbreaking research on the disease and a new treatment for it. He gained acclaim and fame for his work, receiving the 1969 Association for Sickle Cell Anemia award and the 1972 Martin Luther King, Jr. medical achievement award. He continued to work at NIH into the 1980s. He died in Michigan on January 8, 2012.

Authored by Brian Niiya, Densho

For More Information

Cohn, Victor. "Money, Science and the Sickle Cell." Washington Post Magazine, September 24, 1972. Reprinted in Pacific Citizen, December 22–29, 1972, A1, 5.

"Makio Murayama." In Encyclopedia of Japanese American History: An A-to-Z Reference from 1868 to the Present, Revised Edition. Edited by Brian Niiya. New York: Checkmark Books, 2001. 287.

Makio Murayama oral history, conducted by Valerie Williams, November 15, 2001. Office of History, National Institutes of Health.