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UW-Madison Biochemist Edward Schantz dead at 96

Edward J. Schantz, biochemist and emeritus professor of food microbiology and toxicology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, died April 28, 2005 in Madison. He was 96 years old.

Schantz was born Aug. 27, 1908 at Hartford, Wis. and grew up on a dairy farm near Sparta, Wis. He earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry from the UW-Madison, master”s degree in animal chemistry from Iowa State University, and a doctorate in biochemistry from the UW-Madison.

Schantz served in the Army in World War II and remained as an Army reserve officer for more than 20 years. From 1946 to 1972 he worked as a biochemist for the U.S. government. Schantz headed the chemistry department at the Biological Research Center, Fort Detrick, Md., and lectured in chemistry and biochemistry in the University of Maryland”s extended program for Department of Defense personnel.

In 1972 Schantz joined the faculty at the UW-Madison, where he worked as a biochemist at the Food Research Institute until his retirement in 1979. He continued his research at the FRI as an emeritus professor through the 1990s.

Schantz’s work focused on isolation, purification and characterization of foodborne microbial toxins, including those produced by Clostridium botulinum, the enterotoxins produced by Staphylococcus aureus and Bacillus cereus, and the toxins produced by marine “red tide” microorganisms that cause shellfish to become poisonous.

Schantz and his research team at Fort Detrick first purified the poison – saxitoxin – produced by a red tide microbe. The researchers also developed methods used to monitor the safety of shellfish collected for human consumption. In 1975, Schantz and a team of UW-Madison and Iowa State University scientists determined the chemical structure of saxitoxin. Saxitoxin blocks nerve signals, and neurophysiologists have used it as a drug to study nerve signal transmission.

Schantz was a pioneering researcher in the development of botulinum toxins for medical use. He began studying the toxins in the 1940s. Schantz and his coworkers purified the toxin responsible for botulism poisoning, determined its chemical nature, and developed a widely used method for assaying the toxin.

Schantz”s lab produced and purified all the botulinum toxin that was used commercially in the United States through 1998. The commercial form of botulinum toxin – Botox – is popularly known as an injectable wrinkle-remover. Because it temporarily paralyzes muscles, clinicians use Botox as a non-surgical treatment for a wide variety of neuromuscular disorders. Botox injections have helped hundreds of thousands of patients with ailments ranging from spasmodic torticollis to cerebral palsy.

Schantz is survived by his children, Mary (Frank) Krueger of Jay, N.Y.; Edward (Sue) Jr. of Champaign, Ill.; Katharine Fleisner of Pittsburgh, Pa.; Elizabeth (John) Burmeister of Madison; and Robert of Bend, Ore.; six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren; his sister Jane; and many nieces and nephews. He was preceded in death in 1998 by his wife of 58 years, Katharine Lee, and a daughter, Mary Jane.

A private funeral service was held May 3, 2005.