George Emil Palade (November 19, 1912 – October 7, 2008) was a highly regarded Romanian cell biologist. Palade's pioneering research was recognized in 1974 when he shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology with Christian René de Duve of Belgium and Albert Claude of the United States for work on the structure and function of the internal components of cells. In addition to this honor, Palade was elected into the National Academy of Sciences in 1961 and has received numerous awards including the Lasker Award (1966), the Gairdner Special Award (1967), the Hurwitz Prize (1970), and the U. S. National Medal of Science (1986), the 'Star of Romania' Order (2007). He was also honored on a postage stamp issued in 2001 by his native Romania.
George Emil Palade was born in 1912 in Jassy, Romania. He received his bachelor's degree in 1930, and entered the School of Medicine at the University of Bucharest in 1930 and received his M.D. in 1940. However, during medical school he developed a strong interest in basic biomedical sciences and started working in an anatomy laboratory. After completing his degree, he became an instructor at the University of Bucharest, where he was assistant professor of anatomy from 1941 to 1945. Later, in 1945, he was named associate professor.
In the 1940s it was common for European researchers to spend a year or two abroad pursuing advanced studies. Palade received a 2-year fellowship as a visiting investigator at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (now Rockefeller University) in New York City. He joined Albert Claude's electron microscopy research group at the Institute. Expecting to stay just a year or two, Palade ended up remaining at Rockefeller for 27 years. In 1953, he was named an associate member of the Rockefeller Institute, and in 1956 he was promoted to full professor of cell biology.
By fractionating the cells in 0.88 M sucrose, Palade, Hogeboom, and Schneider were able to isolate and characterize intact mitochondria for the first time. They also noted the presence of a fraction enriched in submicroscopic particles (microsomes) that contained large amounts of nucleic acid. In the 1950s, after using electron microscopy to study the structures of mitochondria, the endoplasmic reticulum, and chemical synapses, Palade decided to use electron microscopy to monitor cell fractionation. Using these methods, Palade was able to integrate structural and functional information on a number of cellular components including mitochondria. He and Philip Siekevitz also discovered that the microsomes found earlier in Claude's laboratory were part of the endoplasmic reticulum and that they contained large amounts of RNA. These cellular components were subsequently named ribosomes. His name has become attached to the Weibel-Palade bodies (a storage organelle unique to the endothelium), which he described in collaboration with Ewald R. Weibel. The electron microscopy work coming out of Rockefeller soon became known worldwide. Researchers from numerous disciplines, including anatomy, physiology, and pathology came to Rockefeller to work on this new instrument and to train in Palade's laboratory. The result was the birth of the field of cell biology.
In 1973, Palade left Rockefeller University to become Professor and Chairman of the Section of Cell Biology at Yale University, where he focused his attention on the synthesis of cellular and intracellular membranes. He then assumed the role of Senior Research Scientist in the Department of Cell Biology and Special Advisor to the Dean of the School of Medicine in 1983. Then, in 1990, Palade accepted a position as Professor of Medicine in Residence and Dean for Scientific Affairs at the School of Medicine of the University of California at San Diego.
As a major figure in the birth of cell biology, Palade was also a founding member of the American Society for Cell Biology (ASCB). He was active in the society and served as its president from 1974 to 1975. During his administration, Palade introduced poster presentations to cell biology meetings. He also served as editor of the Journal of Biophysical and Biochemical Cytology (predecessor of the Journal of Cell Biology) for more than a dozen years and as editor of the Annual Review of Cell Biology with Bruce Alberts and James Spudich for more than 10 years.