9 September 1921 marked the birth of Wacław Szybalski, a distinguished Polish biochemist and Doctor Honoris Causa of the Jagiellonian University. To celebrate the 100th anniversary of his birthday, the foundation bearing his name as well as the Polish Academy of Sciences Biotechnology Committee have become honorary patrons of a special issue of the journal Acta Biochimica Polonica.
Wacław Szybalski became interested in chemistry at a very young age. In 1939, he became a student of the Faculty of Chemistry of the Lviv Polytechnic National University. He decided that he will focus on the genetics of bacteria and yeast as well as on biotechnology. He received his PhD at the Gdańsk University of Technology in 1949. In 1950, he emigrated to Denmark, and a year later, to the United States, where he first worked at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and then University of New Brunswick Institute of Microbiology. Prof. Szybalski died on 16 December 2020 in Madison, where he worked as a professor at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research of the University of Wisconsin.
The special issue of Acta Biochimica Polonica features not only a complete list of Prof. Szybalski’s publications, but also papers on the various discoveries that would never be made were it not for his research. Among them is gene therapy, for which Prof. Szybalski, along with his wife Elisabeth, laid the foundations in 1962 by carrying out a successful genetic repair of mutated cells by introducing into them DNA isolated from health cells. He posited that in the future it would be possible to treat patients in the same way, naming the method ‘gene therapy’.
Prof. Szybalski’s research and the development of gene therapy was described by Prof. Józef Dulak, head of the JU Faculty of Biochemistry, Biophysics and Biotechnology Department of Medical Biotechnology. His paper, entitled Gene therapy. The legacy of Wacław Szybalski, as well as other articles are available at the official website of Acta Biochimica Polonica.