There weren’t many smiles when Schimke was growing up in Spokane, Wash. Born in 1932, “my first eight years were right in the middle of the Depression,” he says. “I really didn’t have a lot of the fancy accoutrements that all kids have these days.”
His father was a dentist and his mother was a homemaker. “They had their own problems,” reflects Schimke. “I didn’t have too happy a childhood.”
A self-described loner, Schimke was most content riding his sister’s bicycle (hers was superior to his) around the forests on the outskirts of Spokane and spending Friday afternoons at his grade school when they held art classes. “I loved to paint and muck around with it,” he says, recalling when he tried to paint daffodils with oil paints and failed. No one around him, however, was an artist, and he didn’t have anyone encouraging him to pursue art. At high school, he abandoned his artistic pursuits.
For his undergraduate degree, Schimke went to Stanford University, where he ended up in the premed program and got married. “My wife was majoring in humanities. One of her courses was on art history,” says Schimke. “I learned more about art history than probably anything else at Stanford!”
After getting his undergraduate degree in 1954, Schimke and his wife went hitchhiking in Europe. “We went to all the art galleries,” says Schimke. “We didn’t go to Spain and Russia, but we saw literally everything else that we possibly could. That was a lot of fun.”
After he returned, Schimke went on to get his medical degree in 1958 from Stanford. He interned at the Massachusetts General Hospital until 1960 and then was drafted into the Public Health Service. The draft got him into the National Institute of Arthritis and Metabolic Diseases, where he worked with Herb Tabor, who later became editor-in-chief for the Journal of Biological Chemistry. In 1966, Schimke returned to Stanford as a faculty member.
Over the years, Schimke’s group made significant contributions to understanding protein turnover, steroid hormone control of gene expression, the connections between cell division and apoptosis, and gene amplification as a way for cells to resist cancer chemotherapy drugs. Schimke’s work on protein turnover and gene amplification was featured as a JBC Classic (1). His work on gene amplification is now used for mass production of large quantities of therapeutic proteins, such as erythropoietin and tissue plasminogen activator, in mammalian cells.
Schimke also was a scientific adviser to Monsanto, DuPont and Amgen and was crucial in helping Amgen launch its first blockbuster drug, Epogen, a version of erythropoietin. Schimke was a JBC associate editor from 1975 to 1981 and from 1983 to 2002 and also served on its editorial board. In addition to numerous awards, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1976 and to the Institute of Medicine in 1983.