Birthday: August 24, 1899
Died At Age: 83
Sun Sign: Virgo
Born in: Longlier, Neufchâteau, Belgium
Famous as: Cell Biologist
Died on: May 22, 1983
place of death: Brussels
education: University of Liège
awards: 1974 - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize
Albert Claude was a Belgian-American cytologist and medical doctor who through his extensive research evolved the fundamental procedures of separating living cell to determine its components. His revolutionary work in cytology was initiated by way of his enduring interest in cancer research. He applied advanced biochemical and biophysical procedures including enzyme mapping, electron microscopy and differential high speed centrifugation among others to evolve a method of cell fractionation. His path breaking discovery includes the agent of the Rous sarcoma and the cell organelles constituents like the chloroplast, ribosome, endoplasmic reticulum, lysosome and mitochondrion. His research in cytology established the intricate structural and functional cell properties. The details of specific aspects of cell structure were first published by him. His achievements in cytology that party form a base of modern cell biology garnered him the ‘Nobel Prize’ for Physiology or Medicine in 1974, that he shared with his student George Palade, and Christian de Duve. He served as the Professor of the ‘Rockefeller University’, the ‘Université catholique de Louvain’ and the ‘Université Libre de Bruxelles’. He remained Director of the ‘Laboratoire de Biologie Cellulaire et Cancérologie in Louvain-la-Neuve’. He was also the Director of the ‘Jules Bordet Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment’.
Childhood & Early Life
His autobiography suggests he was born on August 24, 1899, while the civil register mentions the year as 1898. He was born in the small village of Longlier in Neufchâteau, Belgium, in the family of Florentin Joseph Claude and Marie-Glaudice Watriquant Claude as their youngest child among one daughter and three sons.
His father had a bakery-cum-general store. He had seen his mother suffer from breast cancer since 1902 during his pre-school life. She died when Albert Claude was seven years old.
He joined ‘Longlier Primary School’ which was a pluralistic school with a single teacher and a single room with students of different grades. He became a bell boy of the church and used to ring the bell of the church every day at 6 am.
As a result of economic depression, the family shifted to Athus In 1907 which was a more flourishing area with steel mills. There he joined a German school but had to drop out after a couple of years to look after his ailing uncle who was suffering from disability due to cerebral haemorrhage. For several years he took care of his uncle and later during the early part of the World War I he worked as apprentice in steel mills.
He was motivated by the zeal of the then British Minister of War, Winston Churchill that saw him volunteering in the ‘British Intelligence Service’ and serving it during the war period. He faced confinement in concentration camps for a couple of times.
He received the ‘Interallied Medal’ and was also awarded veteran status.
A law was passed under the administration of Marcel Florkin who was the then chief of ‘Direction of Higher Education’ in the ‘Ministry of Public Instruction’ in Belgium. It allowed veterans of war to go for higher studies without any formal education.
Though he lacked formal secondary education, he was admitted to the ‘University of Liège’ in 1922 in recognition of his war service. In 1928 he earned a degree of ‘Doctor of Medicine.
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The subject of his doctoral thesis was mouse cancer transplant into rats for which he received travel allowance from the government of Belgium. During 1928 to 1929 he stayed in Berlin and was associated with the ‘Institut für Krebsforschung’ and later with the ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Biology’ to conduct his postdoctoral research.
In 1929 the ‘Belgian American Educational Foundation’ awarded him with a fellowship to conduct research in the United States. His application at the ‘Rockefeller Institute’ (at present the ‘Rockefeller University’) in New York to research on the analysis and isolation of Rous sarcoma virus was accepted by the then Director of the institute Simon Flexner. There he joined a group led by James Murphy who was analysing the virus Rous Sarcoma, a tumour agent that mainly infects chicken.
The causal agent of carcinoma which is a component of Rous sarcoma virus was for the first time analysed and purified by Albert Claude as "ribose nucleoprotein" (finally named as ‘RNA’) in 1938.
In 1941 he was given American citizenship.
Electron microscopes that were usually used for physical researches were first applied by him in biological cell study during the study of structure of mitochondria in 1945. According to his discovery, mitochondria are the “power houses’ of all cells.
His discovery also include the protein combining devices of cells, the cytoplasmic granules that are full of RNA and termed them as “microsomes” (eventually named “ribosomes”)
He along with Keith Porter identified a “lace-work” structure which was later proved as the prime internal structural feature prevailing in eukaryotic cells and not just an arbitrary mass of substances, thus leading to the discovery of endoplasmic reticulum.
After spending two decades of his prominent research career at the ‘Rockefeller Institute’ in New York, he returned to Belgium to accept the post of Director of the ‘Jules Bordet Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment’ in 1949. The same year, he became a Professor at the ‘University of Brussels’ in the Faculty of Medicine and held the position till 1971.
In 1972 he moved with Dr. Emil Mrena in Louvain-la-Neuve, in southeast of Brussels. There he joined the ‘Catholic University of Louvain’ as a Professor and also became Director of ‘Laboratoire de Biologie Cellulaire et Cancérologie’. He worked on the ultrastructure of the Golgi complex.
During this time he was also inducted as Professor at the Rockefeller University.
He received honorary doctorates from several universities including the ‘Rockefeller University’.
The path breaking cell fractionation process was discovered by him in 1930. The method included releasing of cell contents by disintegrating the cells and breaking the membranes. After separating out the membranes, he centrifuged the rest of the cell mass to disassociate and segregate the contents in respect of their mass. The cell contents thus centrifuged were then segregated into fractions of specific mass. He then discovered that distinct fractions were responsible for distinct cell functions.
Awards & Achievements
His discoveries in cytology regarding “the structural and functional organization of the cell” fetched him the ‘Nobel Prize’ for Physiology or Medicine in 1974 that he shared with his student George Palade, and Christian de Duve.
Personal Life & Legacy
Albert Claude married Julia Gilder in 1935 but the couple later divorced. They had a daughter Philippa.
He died a natural death in his home in Brussels in May 22, 1983.