Douglas Harold Copp Biochemistry

Discovered and named the protein calcitonin, for use in the treatment of bone disease

The Story

Copp decided to enter medicine when his brother died after being shot by a burglar. He completed an MD, then a second doctorate in biochemistry. It was the middle of World War II, and Copp was speedily recruited to the top secret Manhattan Project, developing the atomic bomb. Copp's team worked at the University of California at Berkeley, focussing on the effects of radiation on human bone marrow.

After the war, Copp continued as an instructor at Berkeley. In 1950, he returned to Canada and joined the University of British Columbia as the first Head of the Department of Physiology. His investigation of the regulation of calcium in the body led in 1961 to his world famous discovery of calcitonin, a hormone that inhibits the release of calcium from the bones. Calcitonin is used in its synthetic form to treat the a bone disease osteoporosis, and other diseases such as Paget’s disease, hypercalcemia, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Copp served as President of the Royal Society of Canada's Academy of Science. He was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame as one of 10 chartered members in May, 1994. His induction into the Canadian Science & Engineering Hall of Fame came posthumously, in 2000.

Sources: Georgia Straight, July 1, 1994, Physiology Canada Volume 31, Number 2/3, December, 2000, UBC Senate Minutes, May 20, 1998.

The Person

January 16, 1915
Toronto, Ontario
Date of Death
March 7, 1998
Place of Death
Vancouver, BC
Biochemist; Former head of physiology department
  • MD, University of Toronto, 1939
  • PhD (Biochemistry), University of California at Berkeley, 1943
  • Fellow, Royal Society
  • Fellow, Royal Society of Canada
  • Officer of the Order of Canada
  • Gairdner Award, 1967
  • Flavelle Medal
  • Jacob Biely Research Prize
  • Inductee, Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, 1994
  • Inductee, Canadian Science & Engineering Hall of Fame, 2000
Last Updated
May 14, 2020

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