Nobel Prize Award for Physiology and Medicine 1946 - 1950

About the winners of the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine from 1946 to 1950 including a Muller for radiation, a Muller for DDT, and Cori, as well as behind the scenes information on the decision.

1946 Hermann Joseph Muller (1890-1967), American. Work: Discovery of genetic effects of X-ray irradiation.

Behind the Award--A controversial figure, Muller was extremely energetic and had a good sense of humor. He liked to say that the evolutionary history of his hair had been from brown to gray to bald. The discovery for which he received the prize had to do with genetic mutation, a process that concerned him all his life. The atom bomb greatly alarmed him; he felt it could have adverse genetic effects on future generations. In 1955, with 8 other scientists including Einstein, he signed a paper appealing to all countries to give up war because the hydrogen bomb threatened the "continued existence of mankind." He also wanted to freeze the sperm of gifted people for use in the future, a desire that brought upon his head the wrath of the Catholic Church. According to The Catholic World, such ideas would turn the world into an animal farm.

1947 Carl F. Cori (1896- ), American (b. Czechoslovakia).

Gerty T. Cori (1896-1957), American (b. Czechoslovakia). Work: Study of carbohydrate metabolism and enzymes.

Bernardo A. Houssay (1887-1971), Argentine. Work: Discovering the function of a hormone produced by the pituitary gland in the metabolism of sugar.

Behind the Award--Houssay was the 1st South American scientist to win a Nobel Prize. The year before he received it, dictator Juan Peron had him fired from the University of Buenos Aires because he had signed a petition favoring "democracy and American solidarity." Peron had the newspapers attack the Swedes, saying they had "political ends in mind" in giving the prize to Houssay. Peron called Houssay "the gland detective who could have done research more useful on tuberculosis and syphilis."

1948 Paul H. Muller (1899-1965), Swiss.

Work: Discovery that DDT could kill insects.

Behind the Award--A DDT substance was described as early as 1874. However, Paul Muller, who was not a medical man, found out almost 70 years later that it killed insects. He was then working with the Colorado beetle. Since DDT is a contact poison, the beetle larvae were paralyzed even though they hadn't consumed it. After Muller's discovery, the insecticide was used to control a Naples typhus epidemic in 1944. Though DDT has saved millions of lives, it has become controversial for several reasons. It leads to ecological imbalances. It can be carried far from the point at which it is 1st used. It takes a long time to degrade, so that all animals and humans now have some DDT in their tissues.

1949 Walter R. Hess (1881- ), Swiss.

Work: Research into how parts of the brain control body organs.

Egas Moniz (1874-1955), Portuguese.

Work: Discovery of the value of prefrontal lobotomy for certain mental diseases.

Behind the Award--When Moniz 1st introduced prefrontal lobotomy, a surgical severing of nerve fibers which relaxes tension and relieves depression in the mentally disturbed, it was hailed as a great step in medicine. However, it wasn't long before the honeymoon was over. Reports said that the operation turned people into human vegetables, dulled their consciences, cut away their souls. After that, prefrontal lobotomy was not much used. Today, behavior change through much more delicate surgery has regained some favor, through such operations remain controversial.

1950 Philip S. Hench (1896-1965), American.

Edward C. Kendall (1886-1972), American.

Taedus Reichstein (1897- ), Swiss (b. Poland). Work: Hormone research, including the discovery of cortisone.

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