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Vernon R. Young


Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry Vernon R. Young, who revolutionized scientific understanding of how the human body processes nutrients into protein, died March 30 of complications from renal cancer. He was 66.

“Our conception of how much protein people need to consume is significantly different than it was 20 years ago, largely because of Vernon Young’s research,” said Professor Richard J. Wurtman, director of MIT’s Clinical Research Center.

Young, who was also affiliated with MIT’s Computational and Systems Biology Initiative, focused his research on how the body metabolizes amino acids obtained from eating protein.

Young was born in Rhyl, Wales. He received degrees in agriculture from the University of Reading and the University of Cambridge (both in England) before earning his PhD in nutrition from the University of California at Davis in 1965. He began his 39-year association with MIT the same year, becoming a full professor in 1977.

Besides his MIT work, Young held lecturer and other positions at Harvard Medical School, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and Tufts University. He served as director of research at Shriners Burns Institute in Boston from 1988-1990 and was director of the mass spectrometry laboratory at Shriners Burns Hospital since 1991. In 2001, Young was named to the board of directors of Nestle Corporation, which sought his nutritional expertise.

Among other honors, Young won the Bristol-Myers Squibb/Mead Johnson Award for Distinguished Achievement in Nutrition Research in 1995 and the Danone International Prize for Nutrition in 1997. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1990 and to the Institute of Medicine in 1993 in recognition of his scientific accomplishments in the field of human nutrition. He authored more than 600 publications.

Besides his son Richard, who lives in Newton, Young is survived by his wife Janice of Wellesley and sons Christopher of Boston, Andrew of Newton, Michael of Boston and a daughter, Patricia Young of Needham.

A wake for Young will be held Friday, April 2 from 4-8 p.m. at George F. Doherty & Sons Funeral Home in Wellesley. A funeral mass will be said on Saturday, April 3 at 10 a.m. at St. John the Evangelist Church (9 Glen Road, Wellesley), followed by burial at Woodlawn Cemetery in Wellesley. A memorial service will be held at MIT at a later date to be announced.

Donations in Young’s memory may be made either to the American Cancer Society or St. John the Evangelist Church.