Samuel “Shemouel” Rahbar was born in 1929 to a religious Jewish family of Hamedan, Iran, where his father, Mousa (Moses) Rahbar worked a garment merchant. Samuel received his elementary and middle school education at Alliance Israélite of Hamedan, and finished high school at Pahlavi High School, before leaving for Tehran to pursue his higher education.
Samuel Rahbar completed his studies in general medicine in 1953 at Tehran University, where he also received his post-doctorate in Immunology in 1963. From 1953 to 1960, his hemoglobin research laboratory also served clinical medical needs, in the cities of Abadan and Tehran, within the Oil Company Clinic. Moreover, for years, he collaborated with the immunology section of the University of Tehran, School of Medicine. His commendable work soon earned him an Assistant Professorship at the said school.
From the outset, Dr. Samuel Rahbar mainly focused his research on hemoglobin and its related illnesses. Undoubtedly, he was motivated in this pursuit largely in a quest to find out what had killed his younger brother, Parviz Rahbar, who had died of a form of bone marrow cancer.
Samuel Rahbar discovered a new type of hemoglobin, named HB J-Iran. He then set out for the United States to continue his research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, New York. This erudite scientist collaborated in his research with some of the prominent figures of American medicine, especially Helen M. Rony. In 1970, Samuel Rahbar returned to Iran, with a more dynamic experience and an excited creativity. He was appointed Director of the Applied Biology Section, and named a Professor at Tehran University, School of Medicine. A new stage in his scientific research had begun.
During 15 years of laboratory research, Professor Samuel Rahbar succeeded to study more than 220,000 blood samples for unusual hemoglobins, an arduous endeavor that led him to discover 11 new hemoglobins. His greatest research result was HB A1C, which he discovered in 1967, and which earned him and his country worldwide fame. The 11 hemoglobins discovered by Professor Rahbar were given genuine Persian names, including:
Hemoglobin (HB) J-Iran, HB L-Persian-Gulf, HB Q-Iran, HB D-Iran, HB Cyrus, HB A1C (Diabetics), HB Persepolis, HB Hamedan, HB Arya, and HB Avicenna.
Prof. Rahbar’s discoveries spread through the global headlines, leading the Japanese government to gift to him personally two Amino-Acid Analyzer machines at the University of Tehran. He was also invited by the American National Institute of Research to introduce his discoveries in the United States.
Dr. Samuel Rahbar’s primary discovery was the abnormal increase in the glycated hemoglobin HB A1C in diabetic patients. In other words, patients and physicians would be able to exercise control over the blood sugar levels once they measured the HB A1C concentration in the blood sample of the patient. This was a major medical breakthrough on a global scale that helped save the lives of millions of diabetic patients.
By the virtue of this medical discovery, we are able today to measure the HB A1C level in the blood sample of a diabetic patient and tell if the patient has managed to control their blood sugar levels, and whether he or she has heeded the physician’s recommendations. In short, the HB A1C level can indicate the diabetic patient’s health, and as Prof. Samuel Rahbar discovered, increased levels of HB A1C in diabetic patients signaled trouble. He considered this discovery a gift of God, a gift given through him to all diabetic patients.
Professor Samuel Rahbar married his wife Mahin, neé Shoshani, in 1959. Together, they brought three daughters to the world, all three of whom graduated with honors from American universities. Their eldest, Roya is a molecular biologist, Geeta is a physician, and their youngest Firoozeh is a dentist. Professor Rahbar’s cultural activities began in the early 1970’s alongside his old friend Professor Lalehzari in the Cultural Committee of Tehran Jewish Association. He continued this collaboration for years by organizing meetings and seminars about cultural, hygienic and medical issues.
After the Islamic Revolution in Iran, Professor Samuel Rahbar, then the Dean of the Biology Department of Tehran University, was laid off of his position. This unfair and unacceptable affair was too heavy a burden on his sensitive spirit. As such, he decided against his wishes to leave the country, and in 1979, he immigrated to the United States, together with his family.
American academic and scientific centers recognized this great scientist’s broad knowledge and academic experience. His immigration was welcomed, and he was provided with the means to continue his research. In 1979, merely one year after he had settled in the States, he began to work immediately as a research fellow in the Hematology and Bone Marrow Transplant section of City of Hope, California. The same year, he was assigned as the director of the hemoglobin research laboratory of the said institution. Professor Samuel Rahbar focused his research activities on the structure of HB A1C, and starting in 1996, he made various efforts to produce glycated protein inhibitors with remarkable success.
Professor Samuel Rahbar published more than 100 academic papers, the majority of which dealt with the structure of hemoglobin and the glycation process. He also published reviews and meta-studies deemed significant from research and biological views, one of the latest published in a most accredited scientific journal in New York, which focused on scientific breakthroughs around the world, including Professor Rahbar’s own thoughts on the glycation process of hemoglobin.
In 1989, he published a book in Persian, titled Moammaye Saratan va Tavaros, “The Mystery of Cancer and Inheritance”, in which he discussed in a simple language the advances made in oncological research around the world. For his more than thirty years of scientific achievements, Professor Rahbar was recognized and honored by the scientific centers, universities, and numerous scientists and scholars throughout the world. He was also recruited as member to many biological institutions around the world. In particular, between 1966 and 1980, he participated in several international biological conferences in Sydney, Paris, New York, Munich, Brazil, Jerusalem, Tokyo, and more.
Professor Samuel Rahbar was elected as the honorary member of E.A.S.D., the European Association for the Study of Diabetes, and named the most prominent scholar of diabetes. The City of Hope Research Foundation organized a conference in his honor, during which his portrait was included in an album of the greatest scientists of the world, alongside a book published about his great discovery and its impact on the advancement of clinical medicine. His discovery was further considered by many other global scientific publications as a revolutionary event in the laboratory diagnostic processes of the 20th century. Among his numerous prizes, medals and honorary awards, he earned the Lasting Scientific Achievement Award from American Diabetes Association. His honors further included the Royal Medal from Mohammad Reza-Shah Pahlavi, the king of Iran, the Medal of Culture from the Iranian Ministry of Education, the Eghbal Prize from Queen Farah Pahlavi of Iran, the Alborz Prize, the Nineteenth Annual Award of the Medical Society of the State of New York, an Honorary Plaque from the Royal Iranian Cultural Institution “Farhangestan”, and an Honorary Award from the Council of Scientific Research of the Iranian Ministry of Science.
Professor Samuel Rahbar, the outstanding physician and scientist, best known for his discovery of the glycated hemoglobin, died in the autumn of 2012 in Los Angeles. This truly great scientist dedicated his entire life to his career, and forgoing a well-earned retirement, he continued to spend his later years on studying and doing research.
The Enduring Legacy of Samuel Rahbar, M.D. Ph.D.