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Joseph Rabinowitz, 85, Developed Crucial Drug

June 11, 2009
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Joseph L. Rabinowitz, 85, a biochemist whose research led to the discovery of cholesterol-lowering drugs, died May 28 at his home in Havertown.

Rabinowitz was chief of radioisotope research at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia from 1953 until his retirement in 1992. He spent most of his career studying lipids, which are naturally occurring compounds including fats, oils and cholesterol.

Beginning in the 1950s, he collaborated with scientists from other hospitals and universities on research that led to the discovery of HMG-CoA -- a key substance in the body's manufacturing of cholesterol. The research led to the development of drugs to lower cholesterol.

Rabinowitz also studied lipids in relationship to alcoholism, obesity, thyroid disease and oral cavities. Early in his career, he studied fat metabolism in mice to research muscular dystrophy. In the 1980s, he and another colleague studied lipid metabolism as related to the ability to taste.

He also did groundbreaking research on male and female hormones.

Born in the Ukraine, Rabinowitz left as an infant with his parents, who were fleeing pogroms. He grew up in Mexico.

He earned a bachelor's degree from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy and Science, now the University of the Sciences.

He served in the U.S. Army during World War II, doing malaria research in the China-Burma-India theater.

After his discharge, Rabinowitz earned a master's degree in chemistry and a doctorate in organic chemistry from the University of Pennsylvania. He worked on postdoctoral studies at Penn's Medical School, and in Denmark, England and France.

He was the author or co-author of dozens of scientific articles, and continued to publish after he retired. While at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center, he also served as a professor of biochemistry at Penn's Medical School and taught at the dental school.

As recently as last June, he lectured to dental students as a professor emeritus.

Rabinowitz lectured all over the world, including Russia and Japan in the 1960s. In 1982, he returned to Mexico as visiting professor at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico.

Rabinowitz is survived by his wife, Josephine Feldmark Rabinowitz (they were married in 1946); daughters Malva Rabinowitz and Lois Lamond; son Marty Rabinowitz; a brother; and five grandchildren.

Memorial donations can be made to the: Dr. Joseph L. Rabinowitz Fund for Cancer Research, 132 Burtis Lane, Syosset, N.Y. 11791.

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