Harvey Itano

Name Harvey Itano
Born November 3 1920
Died May 8 2010
Birth Location Sacramento
Generational Identifier


Harvey Akio Itano (1920–2010) was a Japanese American scientist noted for his work on sickle cell anemia and molecular biology.

Born in Sacramento, California, Harvey was the oldest of four children born to Masao and Sumako Itano. During his youth, he was active with the Young People's Christian Conference, serving as treasurer, and became an Eagle Scout. His father, a UC Berkeley graduate from the Class of 1917, encouraged his children to attend university as well, and Harvey also attended Berkeley, graduating in 1942. Yet World War II would have a profound impact on Itano. First, his father was arrested by the FBI on February 16, 1942, on the grounds of possessing radio parts, and remained in internment for over a year. [1] Following Executive Order 9066 , Itano had to prepare for confinement and missed his final exams for his last year. Yet because of his high GPA, Itano was able to skip the exam and graduate the top of his class. [2] Like his fellow Japanese American students, Itano was unable to celebrate his graduation because of his incarceration. Although Itano was slated to receive a medal for scholastic achievement, Berkeley President Robert Sproul stated that Itano was unable to receive it "because his country had called him elsewhere." [3] He was sent with his family to the Sacramento Assembly Center in April, 1942, and was later confined to the Tule Lake concentration camp in Northern California.

Itano's time in camp, however, was short-lived. Itano made two attempts to join the army, but was rejected first because of his 4-C designation as an "enemy alien" and denied review despite being re-classified as 1-A, or available for service. [4] After about a month at Tule Lake, Itano became the first Japanese American student to leave the camps thanks to sponsorship by the National Student Relocation Council . Initially, Itano was offered admission to UC Berkeley Medical School by the Dean of the school but was unable to attend because of his incarceration. [5] Then, with help from Sproul, Itano enrolled in St. Louis University Medical School, completing his medical studies in 1945. Along with resettlers from the camps, Itano was prominently mentioned on multiple occasions in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch as one of many successful Nisei in St. Louis. [6]

While at St. Louis University, Itano met Edward. A. Doisy, a Nobel Prize winning biochemist noted for his discovery of Vitamin K. Doisy encouraged the young Itano to pursue biochemistry and suggested contacting Linus Pauling at California Institute of Techology, or CalTech, about pursuing a Ph.D. Pauling eagerly took on Itano in 1946 as the beginning of an eight-year program for Itano at Cal Tech.

It was during his time at Cal Tech that Itano made his most famous discovery of hemoglobin differences in sickle cell anemia. Collaborating with Pauling and S. Jonathan Singer, Itano helped discover differences in hemoglobin among red blood cells altered by sickle cell anemia using electrophoresis. The discovery led to a formal publication in the acclaimed journal Science in November 1949, and was recognized as the first solid proof of the existence of a "molecular disease." [7] Itano's work generated strong interest in sickle-cell anemia and helped revolutionize views on molecular biology:

The discovery by Dr. Itano of the abnormal human hemoglobins has thrown much light on the problem of the nature of the hereditary hemolytic anemias, and has changed these diseases from the status of poorly understood and poorly characterized diseases into that of well understood and well characterized diseases. [8]

After receiving his Ph.D. in physics and chemistry from Caltech in 1950, Itano began working with the U.S. Public Health Service. In 1954, Itano and his wife Rose moved to Bethesda, Maryland, where Itano helped establish a lab for the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Disease, a subsidiary of the NIH. During his time at NIH, Itano continued work on hemoglobin studies and protein sequencing. In 1970, Itano was recruited by the UC San Diego School of Medicine to be part of the initial faculty for the new school. In 1972, Itano received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for his work on sickle cell anemia, a disease that primarily affected African Americans. In 1979, Itano was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences. Itano lived the remainder of his career at UCSD, retiring formally in 1988. He died on May 8, 2010, after a long struggle with Parkinson's Disease.

Authored by Jonathan van Harmelen , UC Santa Cruz

For More Information

Doolittle, Russell F. "Harvey A. Itano: A Biographical Memoir." National Academy of Sciences, 2014.

" Harvey Itano Documents. " It's In the Blood: A Documentary History of Linus Pauling, Hemoglobin, and Sickle Cell Anemia. Oregon State University Library.


  1. "Raids in Sac'to District," Nichi Bei Shinbun , Feb. 18, 1942.
  2. "30 American-Born Japanese Students from West Coast in College Here," St. Louis Post-Dispatch , Oct. 27, 1942.
  3. Bill Hosokawa, Nisei: The Quiet Americans (New York: William Morrow, 1969).
  4. Russell F. Doolittle, "Harvey A. Itano, 1920–2010: A Biographical Memoir," National Academy of Sciences, 2014, accessed on Aug. 17, 2020 at http://doolittle.ucsd.edu/recentpubs/itano-harvey.pdf .
  5. "Letter from the Committee of UC Berkeley Medical School to Harvey Itano, January 26, 1942." Box 1, Folder 6, Harvey Itano Collection, UC San Diego Special Collections.
  6. "They Find St. Louis Hospitable," St. Louis Post-Dispatch , July 23, 1945.
  7. "Harvey Itano, 1920 - 2010; Doctor achieved a breakthrough on sickle cell disease," Los Angeles Times , June 12, 2010.
  8. Linus Pauling, "Nomination of Harvey Itano for the Theobald Smith Award," July 1955.

Last updated June 13, 2024, 5:37 p.m..