Helen Bulbrook Burch (1906-1987)

Helen Burch, 1953
Helen Burch, 1953

Helen Bulbrook Burch was born in Greenville, Texas in 1906. She received her undergraduate degree from Texas Women’s University in 1926, and both her M.S. (1928) and Ph.D. (1935) in Chemistry from Iowa State University.

From 1929 to 1936 Burch served as assistant professor of Chemistry at Milwaukee-Downer College. She then moved to New York, where she spent seventeen years doing research and teaching at institutions such as Columbia University and the Public Health Research Institute. In 1953 Burch joined the faculty of the Washington University School of Medicine’s Department of Pharmacology as a research associate. Burch was promoted to associate professor in 1957 and full professor in 1974. She retired as professor emeritus and lecturer in Pharmacology in 1975, though she was active in research until the day before her death in 1987.

In connection with the Rice Enrichment Project in Bataan in 1948, Burch conducted a nutritional survey on 202 persons, finding evidence of multiple dietary deficiencies in the levels of various nutrients in the blood or serum. She found a positive correlation between low blood thiamine and the diagnosis of beriberi, as well as wide-spread anemia due to chronic deficiencies of iron and B-vitamins. Burch returned to Bataan in 1950 under the auspices of the William-Waterman Fund and the Nutrition Foundation, Inc., resurveying the population to check on the nutritional improvement which the rice enrichment program and other efforts to elevate the state of nutrition of the population had effected. In the summers of 1952 and 1956 Dr. Burch served as a consultant for the World Health Organization at the Institute of Nutrition for Central America and Panama, traveling to Guatemala to further study malnutrition.

During the course of her long career, Burch earned an international reputation for her unique studies of the metabolic differences among the various parts of the kidney and was the author of over 90 scientific papers in the field of nutrition and metabolism.

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