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Born on this day
Baruj Benacerraf
Baruj Benacerraf was a Venezuelan-born American immunologist and a Nobel Prize winner.
44th week in year
29 October 2020

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Baruj Benacerraf29.10.1920

Wikipedia (22 Oct 2013, 08:55)

Baruj Benacerraf (October 29, 1920 – August 2, 2011) was a Venezuelan-born American immunologist, who shared the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the "discovery of the major histocompatibility complex genes which encode cell surface protein molecules important for the immune system's distinction between self and non-self". His colleagues and shared recipients were Jean Dausset and George Davis Snell.

Early life and education

Benacerraf was born in Caracas, Venezuela on October 29, 1920, to Sephardic Jewish parents from Morocco and Algiers. His brother is well-known philosopher Paul Benacerraf. His father was a textile merchant. Benacerraf moved to Paris from Venezuela with his family in 1925. After going back to Venezuela, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1940. In 1942 he earned his B.S. at Columbia University School of General Studies. He then went on to attain the degree of Doctor of Medicine from the Medical College of Virginia, the only school to which he was accepted.


After his medical internship and US Army service (1945–48), and working at the military hospital of Nancy, he became a researcher at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (1948–50). He performed research in Paris (1950–56), relocated to New York University (1956–68), moved to the National Institutes of Health (1968–70), then joined Harvard University medical school (1970–91) where he became the Fabyan Professor of comparative Pathology, concurrently serving the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston (1980). He began studies of allergies in 1948, and discovered the Ir (immune response) genes that govern transplant rejection (1960s). Counting different editions, he is an author of over 300 books and articles

Baruj first start in the field of immunology was started the Columbia University of Physicians and Surgeons with Elvin Kabat. He spent two years there working on experimental hypersensitivity mechanisms. He then moved to Paris because of family issues and accepted a position in Bernard Halpern’s laboratory at the Broussais Hospital. Here he also formed a close relationship with a young Italian scientist, Guedo Biozzi. For six years he worked on the reticuloendothelial function in relation to immunity. The reticuloendothelia function is the white blood cells inside of a barrier tissue. While there they discovered techniques to study the clearance of particulate matter from the blood by the RES (reticuloendothelial system), and devised equations that govern this process in mammals. After six years Baruj returned to the United States because he could not make his own independent laboratory in France. In the U.S. he developed his own libratory in New York City and returned to study on hypersensitivity. In New York, Baruj worked with several other immunologists on different fields of hypersensitivity. After working in his New York lab, Baruj started to turn his attention more to the train of new scientists. Also in this time frame Baruj made the decision to devote himself to his laboratory practices, instead of the family business. At this time Baruj also made the discovery that would go on to win him the Nobel Prize. He noticed that if antigens (something that causes a reaction with the immune system) were injected into animals with a similar heredity, two groups emerged: responders and non-responders. He then conducted further study and found that the dominant autosomal genes, termed the immune response genes, determined the response to certain antigens. This complex process would lead to the understanding of how these genes would determine immune responses.

His discovery still holds true, and more has been discovered over the last century. More than 30 genes have been discovered in a gene complex called the major histocompatibility complex. The histocompatibility complex is a complex part of DNA that controls the immune response. This research has also lead to clarify auto immune diseases like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.


He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971.

Rous-Whipple Award of the American Association of Pathologists 1985

National Medal of Science 1990

Gold-Headed Cane Award of the American Association for Investigative Pathology 1996

Charles A. Dana Award for pioneering achievements in Health and Education 1996

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