John Walsh was born on August 22, 1938, in Jackson, Mississippi. He received his undergraduate and medical degrees from Vanderbilt University, and from 1963 to 1967, he completed his internal medicine residency at New York Hospital and Cornell Medical Center. In 1969, he spent a determinant year in the laboratories of Drs. Rosalyn Yalow and Solomon Berson (Nobel Laureates of Medicine in 1977), who had discovered the fundamentals to radioimmunoassay (RIA). During this short time, John Walsh was part of the “big” gastrin discovery and developed the first RIA for hepatitis B surface antigen.
In 1970, Dr. Morton Grossman recruited him to the Digestive Diseases Division of the UCLA School of Medicine where he launched his extraordinarily fruitful 30-year career as an independent gastrointestinal endocrinologist. Among Walsh’s early seminal findings, he established the importance of gastrin in the gastric phase of acid secretion in dogs and humans and demonstrated the paracrine action of somatostatin in the regulation of gastrin release. In collaboration with Helen Wang, a long time research associate, he landed his expertise in RIA to the development of a number of those for gastrointestinal peptide including somatostatin, pancreatic polypeptide, bombesin, neurotensin, motilitin, secretin, cholecystokinin, vasoactive intestinal peptide and substance P. These sensitive assays were state-of-the art, allowing the unraveling of the basic physiology of gastrointestinal hormones under both in vivo and in vitro conditions and are part of his legacy to share generously these valuable reagents.
John Walsh authored over 500 peer-reviewed articles and book chapters. Between 1973 and 1984, in the era of rapid discovery of peptide hormones, he was among the 250 scientists the most cited according to the Scientist. He earned many awards including the Distinguished Achievement Award from the American Gastroenterology Association (AGA), the AGA Kirsner Award for Clinical Research in Gastroenterology and the Abbott Distinguished Research Award from the Gastrointestinal Physiology Section of the American Physiological Society.
In addition, of his prolific scientific contributions, he was elected to serve in leadership positions as Director of the CURE: Digestive Disease Center from 1989 up to 2000, he was the AGA President from 1994 to 1995, and Editor-in-Chief of its journal, Gastroenterology. He also had maintained a true commitment to the Gut Hormone/RegPep symposia in organizing the 10th meeting in Santa Barbara and serving on the International Steering Committee since its inception in 1974.