Philip Handler served as President of the National Academy of Sciences from 1969 to 1981. He made important contributions to the biochemistry of nutrition. While studying the metabolic pathways of different amino acids, he found that methionine is the sole methyl donor in mammalian metabolism and that single carbon atoms play a vital role in the oxidation mechanism of glycine synthesis and degradation. He received the National Medal of Science in 1981 for his biochemical research on pellagra; a vitamin B3 (niacin) deficiency disease.
Handler received his undergraduate degree from the City College of New York in 1936 and earned his PhD from the University of Illinois in 1939. In 1939 he began his long career at Duke University where he taught physiology and biochemistry, was named the James B. Duke Professor of Biochemistry, and served as Chairman of the Biochemistry Department until 1969. He then served as a consultant at the Veteran’s Administration and was a member of the President’s Science Advisory Committee from 1964 to 1974. As a member of the National Institutes of Health, he was on many biochemistry committees. At the National Science Foundation he served as a member, Vice-Chairman, and Chairman of the National Science Board.
While serving as President of the National academy of Sciences Handler reached out to international Academies to foster discourse between the scientists of other countries. He was a strong proponent of scientific freedom and appointed a Committee on International Security and Arms control within the Committee on Human Rights to protect scientists in other countries, especially with the Soviet Union. In addition to his international work, he aided in the founding of the US Federal Department of Health, Education, and Welfare which helped to create many centers within the Nation Institutes of Health.