Joseph H. Burckhalter
Antibodies are the body's protectors. When antigens, like bacteria or viruses, enter the body, antibodies from a previous infection or vaccine deactivate the invaders. During the 1950s, as this was studied, it became a priority to identify antigens. Joseph Burckhalter and Robert Seiwald contributed to the identification of antigens through the synthesis of fluorescein isothiocyanate (FITC). The first practical and patented antibody labeling agent, the stable, yellow-green fluorescent compound has become widely used for rapid and accurate diagnosis of infectious diseases. FITC has played an important role in identifying the cause of AIDS and is used to distinguish between different strains of streptococci. FITC and red RITC (rhodamine isothiocyanate) are used together to diagnose leukemia and lymphoma.
Born in Columbia, South Carolina, Burckhalter earned a B.S. from the University of South Carolina in 1934, an M.S. from the University of Illinois, Urbana in 1938, and a Ph.D. from the University of Michigan in 1942. He then worked at Parke-Davis. From the pain-relieving drug Tylenol, he derived Camoquin, a cure for malaria. Burckhalter was a professor of medicinal chemistry at the University of Michigan from 1960 to 1983. After 1983, he spent time at the Florida Institute of Technology as a research professor.