John Turk has made major contributions to the intellectual spirit of Washington University since the 1960s. He received a National Merit scholarship as an undergraduate here, was elected to Phi Beta Kappa and graduated summa cum laude from Washington University in 1970. He then entered the Medical Scientist Training Program, was elected to Alpha Omega Alpha, and received M.D. and Ph.D. degrees from Washington University in 1976. After a medical internship at the University of Chicago, he completed internal medicine and laboratory medicine residencies at Washington University, and then served as a fellow in Clinical Pharmacology at Vanderbilt University, where he participated in the structural characterization of previously unidentified metabolites of arachidonic acid.
In 1982, John became an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Pathology at Washington University, was promoted to Associate Professor in 1988 and to Professor in 1994. A pioneer in mass spectrometry research, Dr. Turk has generated new insights into pancreatic b-cell signaling, including the demonstration that arachidonic acid modulates ionic events in insulin secretion. This led to the identification of a phospholipase A2 (PLA2) activity that releases arachidonate from b-cell membrane phospholipids and then to cloning of that enzyme. Mutations in this PLA2 gene underlie a spectrum of human neurodegenerative disorders, and knockout mice, generated in the Turk laboratory, develop identical neuropathology and exhibit abnormalities in glucose and bone metabolism, fertility, carcinoma metastatic behavior, and vascular biology.
Elected to the American Society of Clinical Investigation (1991) and the Association of American Physicians (2001), Dr. Turk received NIH MERIT awards (granted only to those who make exceptional contributions to biomedical research) from 1993-2001 and 2001-2011. An author of more than 250 publications, he has served as both a member of NIH’s Medical Biochemistry and the Metabolism Study Sections, and continues to serve on numerous editorial boards, including those for Diabetes and the Journal of Biological Chemistry. He is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine, teaches as an attending physician on the Internal Medicine service, and directs the institution’s Drug Analysis Laboratory.
For decades, Dr. Turk has directed the Biomedical Mass Spectrometry Resource Facility in the Department of Medicine, where he and Dr. Kevin Yarasheski have created one of the most respected centers for mass spectrometry anywhere. Dr. Turk was among the first to apply electrospray ionization mass spectrometry to complex lipid analyses and, with Dr. Fong Fu-Hsu, established an internationally recognized program in tandem mass spectrometry that led to structural identification of previously unknown bioactive molecules relevant to metabolic disease.