Baruj Benacceraf, Venezuelan physiologist

Date: 1980
Owner: Newswise
Source Type: Images


Baruj Benacerraf (1920- ), won the Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology in 1980 for his discovery of immune response (Ir) genes that determine structures on the cell surface that allow the immune system to distinguish between self and non-self. He was born in Caracas, Venezuela, of Spanish and Jewish heritage, and spent much of his youth in France. He studied medicine in the United States and conducted his landmark studies in immunology and pathology while working at the New York University School of Medicine in the early 1960s.

Benacerraf realized that the dominant Ir genes in mammals determine whether or not the body's immune system will mistakenly attack something that it actually should be defending, processes known as autoimmune responses. This research was especially pertinent to understanding why transplants are either accepted or rejected by various persons. In 1970, Baruj Benacerraf was given the Chair of Pathology at the Harvard medical school and served as the president of the American Association of Immunologists (1973), president of the American Society for Experimental Biology and Medicine (1974), and president of the International Union of Immunological Societies (1980). He was also president of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, the organization to which he donated his Nobel Prize money. His work has proven critical to the scientific understanding of various cancers and autoimmune diseases, like multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis. To date, Benacerraf is the only Venezuelan to win a Nobel Prize.

CITATION: Baruj Benacerraf. Steve Gilbert for Newswise.