Birthday: October 29, 1920
Died At Age: 90
Sun Sign: Scorpio
Born in: Caracas, Venezuela
Famous as: Immunologist
Spouse/Ex-: Annette Benacerraf
father: Abraham Benacerraf
mother: Henrietta Lasry
siblings: Paul Benacerraf
children: Beryl Rica Benacerraf
Died on: August 2, 2011
City: Caracas, Venezuela
awards: 1980 - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
1990 - National Medal of Science for Biological Sciences
Baruj Benacerraf was a Venezuelan-born American immunologist who was one of the co-recipients of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. His most significant contribution is the identification of gene groups called ‘major histocompatibility complexes’ and understanding their capacity to control immune responses. Though born into a family with a business background, he was interested in pursuing science and graduated with a Bachelors degree in Science from Columbia University and a Doctor of Medicine degree from the Medical College of Virginia. He served in the US Army for a year after which he began his career as a researcher. As a researcher, he had the opportunity to work on various areas like structure of antibodies, tumor specific immunity, immunochemistry, immune complex diseases and so on. He worked in collaboration with renowned scientists like William Paul, Victor Nussenzweig, Gerald Edelman and Zoltan Ovary among many others. He was jointly awarded the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with immunologist Jean Dausset and geneticist George D. Snell.
Childhood & Early Life
Baruj Benacerraf was born on 29 October 1920, at Caracas, Venezuela. His father was a business man from Spanish Morocco and mother was from French Algeria. His brother, Paul Joseph Salomon Benacerraf, grew up to become a renowned philosopher.
In 1925, he along with his family shifted to Paris from Venezuela. He completed his primary and secondary school education in French.
With the onset of World War II, in 1939, he and his family shifted back to Venezuela. In 1940, he moved to New York, USA to pursue higher studies.
He enrolled at the Columbia University in the School of General Studies and graduated with Bachelors degree in Science in 1942. Later he successfully completed his degree in Doctor of Medicine from the Medical College of Virginia.
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After completing his graduation, Baruj Benacerraf pursued his medical internship at the Queens General Hospital in New York City, after which he served in the US Army from 1946 to 1948.
After his discharge from military service he joined the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons as researcher. During this phase, he got the opportunity to gain an understanding of immunochemistry and basic immunology.
In 1949, he along with his wife and daughter shifted to Paris and he subsequently accepted a position in Bernard Halpern's laboratory at the Broussais Hospital. He carried out research to study reticuloendothelial function with regards to immunity and developed methods to study the emptying of particulate matter from blood by RES.
In 1956 he returned to USA and focused on immune complex diseases, cellular hypersensitivity, anaphylactic hypersensitivity, structure of antibodies and tumor specific immunity. He worked in collaboration with renowned scientists which include immunologists Robert McCluskey, Philip Gell, Lloyd J. Old, Zoltan Ovary and biologist Gerald Edelman.
During this period he also managed a New York bank—the Colonial Trust Company that he had inherited from his father. However, he retired from his position at the bank so that he could devote his time to science.
He also commenced his research in immunogenetics that involved the discovery of genetically determined structures on cells that control immunological responses. As per further studies in this field in later years, researchers have identified more than 30 genes in a gene complex called the major histocompatibility complex, which regulates immune reactions.
In 1968 he joined the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease as the Director of Laboratory of Immunology. Here, he received the opportunity to conduct studies on immunogenetics.
Two years later, in 1970 he accepted a position at Harvard Medical School in the Department of Pathology. Beginning 1980 he also served as the president of the Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber cancer institute, Boston.
He retired in 1995 but remained on the Boards of Dana-Farber. He had written approximately 300 papers during his career. His works include ‘Textbook of Immunology’ with Emil R. Unanue (1979), ‘Son of the Angel’ (1990), ‘From Caracas to Stockholm: A Life in Medical Science’ (1998) and ‘Hybrid 5’ (2003).
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Baruj Benacerraf was an immunologist who researched on the working of the human immune system. His most noted work was the discovery of genes that control immune responses and the part played by genes in autoimmune diseases.
Awards & Achievements
He was the recipient of the Rabbi Shai Shacknai Prize in Immunology and Cancer Research presented by Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1974.
In 1976, he was awarded the T. Duckett Jones Memorial Award by Helen Hay Whitney Foundation.
Baruj Benacerraf jointly won the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine with Jean Dausset and George Davis Snell. The trio won the award "for their discoveries concerning genetically determined structures on the cell surface that regulate immunological reactions".
In 1990 he was awarded the National Medal of Science.
The Gold-Headed Cane Award of the American Society of Investigative Pathology was received by him in 1996. The same year he won the Charles A. Dana Award.
He received the 2001 AAI Excellence in Mentoring Award.
He was the elected member of professional societies like American Academy of Arts and Sciences, The Institute of Medicine and The National Academy of Sciences.
Personal Life & Legacy
Baruj Benacerraf married Annette Dreyfus in 1943 and the couple had a daughter named Beryl Rica Benacerraf. His wife, Annette, died in June 2011.
He died of pneumonia on 2 August 2011, at Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts, at the age of 90.