Daniel Carleton Gajdusek

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Daniel Carleton Gajdusek

Daniel Carleton Gajdusek (born September 9, 1923 in Yonkers , New York , † December 12, 2008 in Tromsø , Norway ) was an American physician, physical chemist , and virologist . In 1976 he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine .


Gajdusek's parents had emigrated from Austria-Hungary to the USA before the First World War . His father was Slovak and his mother was a Calvinist Hungarian . From 1939 he studied physics, chemistry and mathematics at the University of Rochester . In 1946 he was at the Harvard Medical School in Cambridge (Massachusetts) for MD PhD .

Research topics

Gajdusek studied physical chemistry with Linus Pauling as a second degree in Pasadena (California) and cell biology and virology with John Enders and worked with Frank Macfarlane Burnet in Australia from 1955 to 1957 . He became known in professional circles in 1954 when he introduced a new type of therapy against rabies in Tehran and documented its success in an educational film ("Rabies in Man"). The then director of the Iranian Institute Pasteur , Marcel Baltazard, had recently shown that a third of all patients who had been bitten in the head by a rabid dog could not be saved by the existing rabies vaccine . Gajdusek suggested giving the vaccine together with rabies antibodies that could be obtained from rabbit serum . In August 1954, this combination therapy was used in 18 patients who had been injured in the head by wolves infected with rabies: all patients survived the infection. Since then, this therapy has proven itself worldwide for the treatment of rabies infections.

Gajdusek's most important scientific achievement, however, was the experimental proof of a group of transmissible "spongioform" encephalopathies . In 1957, he learned that the New Guinea district doctor Vincent Zigas had reported an unusual disease - called Kuru - which existed in the Fore tribe in the highlands of Papua New Guinea and was manifested in neurological deficits in women and children. The first symptom was an unsteady gait, tremor and speech disorders soon followed , and within months there was initially complete mental derangement and finally death.

Gajdusek suggested that the cause of the disease could be found in a form of ritual cannibalism in which only women and children were involved. Together with the virologist Clarence Joseph Gibbs Jr., experiments were carried out in the following years. In 1968 both succeeded in transferring Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease to chimpanzees , and in 1972 the corresponding evidence of scrapie followed . In 1980 Gajdusek also refuted the theory that had existed until then that Alzheimer's disease was also transferable. For the discovery of a new class of infectious pathogens, the prions , he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976 - together with Baruch Blumberg , who had, however, researched in a completely different field .

Sexual abuse conviction

Gajdusek undertook research trips to the indigenous peoples living on the South Sea islands , from whom he brought a total of 56 children with the consent of his parents who grew up with him. In 1997, he was sentenced to prison for sexually abusing boys he had adopted from New Guinea and Micronesia, which he had admitted in court. After his release he moved to Europe in 1998, where he lived for the next ten years until his death, mostly in Amsterdam in the warm season and in Norway in winter.

Honors and memberships (selection)


  • Warwick Anderson: The Collectors of Lost Souls . Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore, USA, 2008.
  • Gisela Baumgart: Gajdusek, Daniel Carleton. In: Werner E. Gerabek , Bernhard D. Haage, Gundolf Keil , Wolfgang Wegner (eds.): Enzyklopädie Medizingeschichte. De Gruyter, Berlin / New York 2005, ISBN 3-11-015714-4 , p. 446.
  • Richard Rhodes: Deadly Meal. BSE: a creeping epidemic threatens humanity. Hoffmann and Campe, Hamburg 1998, ISBN 978-3-455-15021-6 . (Original edition New York 1997)
  • Hanya Yanagihara : The People in the Trees . Novel. Atlantic 2013

Film documentaries

  • The genius and the boys . (Original title: Geniet och pojkarna ). Sweden ( SVT ) 2009. 79 minutes. Director: Bosses Lindquist.

Web links

Commons : Daniel Carleton Gajdusek  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Headhunting for Medicine. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung from November 6, 2011, page 65
  2. ^ Gisela Baumgart: Gajdusek, Daniel Carleton. 2005, p. 446.
  3. ^ Jaap Goudsmit: Daniel Carleton Gajdusek (1923–2008). In: Nature . Volume 457, 2009, p. 394
  4. D. Carleton Gajdusek, J. Farquhar: Kuru. New York 1981.
  5. nytimes.com : D. Carleton Gajdusek, Who Won Nobel for Work on Brain Disease, Is Dead at 85. In: The New York Times , December 15, 2008 (English)
  6. Carmela Ciuraru: Bitter Fruit , The New York Times , September 27, 2013
  7. Geniet och pojkarna. ( Memento from November 7, 2011 in the Internet Archive )