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Chemist Kenneth L. Rinehart dies at 76

Jim Barlow, Life Sciences Editor

Kenneth L. Rinehart
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Kenneth L. Rinehart


CHAMPAIGN –Kenneth L. Rinehart, a chemistry professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign who was internationally known for his research on organic compounds involved in biological activity, died Monday at his Urbana home after a long illness. He was 76.

Rinehart’s research led to the development of a procedure involving mutasynthesis to prepare new antibiotics. He also led the chemistry department’s marine natural products program that collected samples from the ocean floor in the mangroves off Puerto Rico and from other collection sites around the world.

In 1990, Rinehart isolated several extracts produced naturally by sea squirts that showed promise as anti-cancer agents. One of the extracts, ecteinasciden, has repeatedly worked safely and effectively in animal studies and through three stages of human clinical trials against soft-tissue sarcomas and lung, breast and ovarian cancers. Rinehart identified the substance, also known as ET-743, in his Illinois laboratory; the university licensed the rights to the compound to PharmaMar SA of Spain for production purposes.

Rinehart was elected as a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 1980. He also was a Sloan Fellow and Guggenheim Fellow. He received the Ernest Guenther Award in the Chemistry of Natural Products in 1996 from the American Chemical Society.

Rinehart joined the Illinois faculty as an instructor in organic chemistry in 1954. He retired in August 2000. He was born March 17, 1929, in Chillicothe, Mo. He earned a bachelor’s degree in chemistry in 1950 from Yale University and a doctorate in chemistry in 1954 from the University of California at Berkeley. In between, he attended a year of college on a Rotary fellowship at the University of Goettingen in Germany.

Early in his career, Rinehart played a leading role in obtaining the initial funding for state-of-the art mass spectometry equipment at Illinois.

An avid scuba diver, mountaineer and downhill skier, Rinehart served on the editorial boards of several journals, including the Journal of Antibiotics, Journal of Medicinal Chemistry and the Journal of Natural Products. He also had served on the Chemistry Advisory Committee of the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (1971-75), the Chemical and Biological Information Handling Panel of the National Institutes of Health (1969-1974) and the Executive Committee of the American Chemical Society’s Division of Organic Chemistry (1968-1970).

Rinehart is survived by his wife, Marlyn; three sons, Kenneth L. Rinehart III of Tucson, Ariz., John Benjamin Rinehart of Cambridge, Mass., and Nicholas Whitsitt Rinehart of Champaign; and two grandchildren.

A public visitation will be from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at the Mount Hope Mausoleum, 611 E. Pennsylvania Ave., Champaign. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Saturday at the McKinley Presbyterian Church, 809 S. Fifth St., Champaign, with a reception to follow on the main floor of the McKinley Foundation next door. Private burial will be Saturday in Mount Hope Cemetery.

Memorials may be made to any of the following organizations: the McKinley Presbyterian Church, 809 S. Fifth St., Champaign, IL 61820; the American Society of Pharmacognosy, 901 S. State St., Big Rapids, MI 49307; or the Kenneth L. Rinehart Award for Excellence in Chemistry Fund at the University of Illinois Foundation, 1305 W. Green St., Urbana, IL 61801.
The Mittendorf-Calvert Funeral Home is handling funeral arrangements.