Founder and Head of the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1956-1981).
Shalom Sarel was born Shalom Israelashvily in Jerusalem on 25 October 1918, 18 days prior to the armistice of World War I. He passed away in Jerusalem on 30 March 2015. His grandparents and parents immigrated from Georgia (then a part of Czarist Russia) to Palestine, then a part of the Ottoman Empire in 1892 and settled in Jerusalem.
Shalom attended the Rehavia Gymnasium (1933-1936), where he has been exposed to natural sciences. He studied Biology, Chemistry and Bacteriology at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJ) and received his MSc in Biochemistry in 1942. His MSc thesis, supervised by Dr Noach Lichtenstein, was on quantitative estimation of amino acids in protein hydrolysate. Shalom considered retrospectively his 1941 research seminar on "new developments in chemotherapy of infectious diseases", which centered around sulphonamides and antibiotics, a landmark in his career.
Shalom Sarel's PhD thesis, 1946, granted by The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, was entitled "The Participation of 9-10 Double Bond in Phenanthrene in Cyclization, Ethylenization, and Cycloaddition". It was formally supervised by Professor Moshe Weizmann. The research work was carried out at the Daniel Sieff Research Institute, Rehovot. Dr Felix Bergmann served as the advisor of the PhD thesis. For living, he taught Physics and Chemistry at a high school in Rehovot and Chemistry at the Secondary School in Jerusalem (associated with the Hebrew University) and was a part-time assistant at the Wolff Institute which was engaged in pilot-plant production of anti-malarial drugs (atebrin).
In 1946 Sarel was appointed assistant in the Department of Organic Chemistry of HUJ. In 1947-1949, during Israel's War of Independence, Sarel participated in the war effort, serving in the Science Corps ("Hemed"), worked in explosive (detonators) production and investigated the mechanism of starch nitration.
In 1952-1954 Sarel held postdoctoral and research associate positions at the Department of Chemistry, Ohio State University, Columbus Ohio, with Professor Melvin S. Newman, working on steric effects in hydrolysis of highly-branched fatty acids, highlighting the "proximity effect" on reaction rates. In 1955 he joined the Department of Organic Chemistry B of HUJ (headed by Professor Ernst D. Bergmann} and was promoted to Senior Lecturer in Organic Chemistry. In 1956 he founded the Department of Pharmaceutical Chemistry at the newly formed School of Pharmacy, Faculty of Medicine of HUJ and served as its head (1956-1981), thus shaping future generations of professional pharmacists. He was promoted to Associate Professor in 1958 and Professor Ordinarius in 1964, becoming Professor Emeritus in 1990. Sarel served as the President of the Israel Chemical Society (1961-1964), Editor-in-Chief of the Israel Journal of Chemistry and held several positions as visiting professor of chemistry in various universities around the world. He supervised many Ph.D. and M.Sc. students. He was a founder of the School of Pharmacy and a founding father of Medicinal Chemistry in Israel.
Sarel's research interests and activities centered around several principal areas in chemistry and medicinal chemistry: physical organic chemistry, organic transition-metal chemistry, steroids, synthetic organic chemistry, organic reaction mechanisms, chelation therapy, bioinorganic chemistry, marine pharmacology, chemotherapy. His research projects included inter alia, chemistry of steroids: synthesis of 14-desoxy-digitotoxigenin and bufadie4nolide; physical organic chemistry of 5-member and 6-membercyclic carbonates; synthesis and rearrangements of alpha-lactams; cycloadditions of elecrophilic olefins to vinylcyclopropane and to divinylcyclopropane to form, 7-, 9-, and 13-member rings ("Homo Diels-Alder reactions"); the reactions of vinylcyclopropanes and organo-metallic reagents (eg iron pentacarbonyl) to give of 6- and 8-member ring; alkaloid chemistry: transformations in the tropane and piasinin series; biomimetic synthesis of digitoxigenin and bufotalin
In later years, Sarel was active in the biochemistry of iron, focusing on the development of lipophilic chelates based on pyridoxal hydrazones, for the removal of toxic excess of iron from body storage in thalassemia patientsand for growth inhibition of Malaria's drug-resistant Plasmodium falciparium.
Professor Shalom Sarel has been involved extensive in scientific public activities along with his academic achievements. He was a member of the Executive Committee of the European Federation for Medicinal Chemistry (EFMC) and served as its Vice Chairman (2000-2002), a member of the Division of Organic Chemistry of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) (1970-1990) and first president of the Israel Association for Medicinal Chemistry (1990-2004). In 2012, Professor Sarel received the Israel Chemical Society (ICS) Honorable Member award , which recognized his outstanding long and continuous lifetime contribution to chemistry in Israel and an exceptional service to the ICS. In recent years he has served as a Regional Editor for Asia of the journal Mini Reviews in Medicinal Chemistry. Shalom Sarel was Fellow of the Royal Society of Chemistry (RSC) since 1945, Member of the American Chemical Society (ACS) since 1946 and Member of Swiss Chemical Society (SCS) since 1960. He had a tremendous impact on the scientific life in Israel.
Shalom Sarel served many times as a chair and member of a balloting committee in general elections. A fortnight before his passing away, he insisted and voted in the general elections, in spite of his deteriorating health.
In conclusion, Shalom Sarel was a pioneer par excellence. In Isaiah Berlin's terminology, as a scientific personality and as a human being in general, Professor Shalom Sarel belongs to the foxes, not to the hedgehogs.
The following inscription (in Hebrew) on Shalom Sarel's grave stone characterizes his personality:
- Researcher and Scientist
- Broad-minded and Knowledge-Thirsty.
Professor Shalom Sarel is survived by his wife of 68 years, Dr Meira Imber Sarel; his children Miri Shmida, Danny Sarel and Tal Sarel-Sharon, 10 grandchildren and 9 great grandchildren.
Israel Agranat, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 7 October, 2015