Baruj Benacerraf

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Baruj Benacerraf
File:Baruj Benacerraf.jpg
Born (1920-10-29)October 29, 1920
Caracas, Venezuela
Died August 2, 2011(2011-08-02) (aged 90)
Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, USA
Citizenship Venezuela/American[1]
Nationality Venezuela
Fields immunology, medicine
Institutions New York University
Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons
National Institutes of Health
American Academy of Arts and Sciences
Harvard Medical School
Dana–Farber Cancer Institute[2]
Alma mater Columbia University
Medical College of Virginia
Known for major histocompatibility complex
Notable awards National Medal of Science
1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine[3][4][5]
Spouse Annette (Dreyfus) Benacerraf
(1922–2011; m.1943–2011; her death)
(one daughter, Beryl Rica Benacerraf, b. 1949)

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".[6][7][8] 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 the 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.

From his autobiography at,

  • "By that time, I had elected to study biology and medicine, instead of going into the family business, as my father would have wanted. I did not realize, however, that admission to Medical School was a formidable undertaking for someone with my ethnic and foreign background in the United States of 1942. In spite of an excellent academic record at Columbia, I was refused admission by the numerous medical schools I applied to and would have found it impossible to study medicine except for the kindness and support of George W. Bakeman, father of a close friend, who was then Assistant to the President of the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. Learning of my difficulties, Mr. Bakeman arranged for me to be interviewed and considered for one of the two remaining places in the Freshman class."[9]


After his medical internship 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[10]

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, Guido 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.[11]


He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971.[12]

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

Honorary degrees received

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Sciences, Virginia Commonwealth University 1981

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Sciences, New York University 1981

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Sciences, Yeshiva University 1982

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Sciences, Columbia University 1985

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Sciences, Adelphi University 1988

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Philosophy, Weizmann Institute of Sciences 1989

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Sciences, Gustav Adolphus University 1992

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Sciences, Harvard University 1992

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Sciences, Université de Bordeaux 1993

Honorary Degree of Doctor of Medicine, University of Vienna 1995

Later years and death

His autobiography was published in 1998.[13] Benacerraf died on August 2, 2011 in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts of pneumonia.[14] His wife, Annette, predeceased him that same year on June 3.

See also


  2. Gellene, Denise (August 2, 2011). "Dr. Baruj Benacerraf, Nobel Laureate, Dies at 90". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Raju, T. N. (1999). "The Nobel Chronicles". The Lancet. 354 (9191): 1738–1713. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)76734-9. PMID 10568613.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. "The Nobel Lectures in Immunology. The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, 1980 awarded to Baruj Benacerraf, Jean Daussett & George D. Snell". Scandinavian journal of immunology. 35 (4): 373–98. 1992. PMID 1557610.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Petrányi, G. (1981). "Nobel Prize winners in medicine for 1980. Immunogenetic significance of the main histocompatibility system (George Snell, Jean Dausset, Baruj Benacerraf)". Orvosi hetilap. 122 (14): 835–837. PMID 7019812.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Germain, R. N.; Paul, W. E. (2011). "Baruj Benacerraf (1920–2011) Immunologist who won Nobel for genetics of T-cell antigen recognition". Nature. 477 (7362): 34. doi:10.1038/477034a. PMID 21886149.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. 1980 Nobel Medicine Winners
  8. Nobel autobiography
  10. "Results for author:Benacerraf, Baruj". OCLC. Retrieved 2011-08-04.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. Benaerraf, B. (1980). Autobiography. Retrieved April 21, 2012, from Nobelprize:
  12. "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 2, 2011.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Baruj Benacerraf (1998). From Caracas to Stockholm: a life in medical science. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1-57392-227-2. OCLC 39093634.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Gellene, Denise (August 2, 2011). "Dr. Baruj Benacerraf, Nobel Laureate, Dies at 90". The New York Times.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>