Birthday: October 2, 1917
Died At Age: 95
Sun Sign: Libra
Born in: Thames Ditton, United Kingdom
Famous as: Biochemist
Spouse/Ex-: Janine Herman (m. 1943; her death 2008)
children: Alain de Duve, Anne de Duve, Françoise de Duve, two daughters:Thierry de Duve, Two sons
Died on: May 4, 2013
Cause of Death: Euthanasia
awards: 1974 - Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
1960 - Francqui Prize
1967 - Gairdner Foundation International Award
1989 - E.B. Wilson Medal
Christian de Duve was a Belgian cytologist and biochemist known for his discoveries about the internal workings of cells. He won a share of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 in recognition of his discoveries of two cell organelles, peroxisome and lysosome. His discoveries played a pivotal role in helping to unravel the biology of several genetic diseases. Born to Belgian refugees in Great Britain during the World War I, he returned to Belgium with his family when he was a toddler. As a young boy, he was more interested in the literary branches rather than science. As he grew up his interests shifted and he decided to study medicine at the Catholic University of Leuven. As a medical student, he also became involved in research at the physiology laboratory of Professor J. P. Bouckaert. With time, he became more focused on research and by the time he earned his MD he had given up the idea of practicing medicine. Instead he ventured into an academic career that offered ample scope for research. Christian de Duve specialized in subcellular biochemistry and cell biology and discovered new cell organelles. His work on cell fractionation provided an insight into the function of cell structures and working with a colleague, he confirmed the location of the hydrolytic enzymes (acid hydrolases) of lysosomes.
Childhood & Early Life
Christian René Marie Joseph de Duve was born on 2 October 1917, in Great Britain, to Belgian refugees, Alphonse de Duve and wife Madeleine Pungs, during the First World War. His father was a shopkeeper. The family returned to Belgium in 1920 after the war ended.
He grew up to be a bright and curious boy who performed well in studies. As a young boy, he was interested more in literary branches than in science. Nevertheless he decided to study medicine because of its appealing career prospects.
He joined the Catholic University of Leuven in 1934, aspiring to specialize in endocrinology. As a medical student, he joined the laboratory of the physiologist Joseph P. Bouckaert.
In 1940, Belgium was invaded by Germany, and de Duve joined the army to serve in the World War II. He was captured by the Germans almost immediately, but managed to escape.
He resumed his studies and obtained his MD in 1941. By this time, however, he had lost all interest in practicing medicine and was more inclined towards research.
He decided to get further training and worked towards a degree in chemistry along with a clinical internship in the Cancer Institute. By 1945, he had earned the degree of "Agrégé de l'Enseignement Supérieur" and had also written a book titled ‘Glucose, Insuline et Diabète.’ He subsequently obtained MSc in chemistry in 1946.
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After receiving his MSc, Christian de Duve trained in the laboratory of Hugo Theorell at the Nobel Medical Institute in Stockholm for 18 months during 1946-1947. Following this he worked with the husband-wife pair of Carl and Gerti Cori at Washington University in St. Louis.
Christian de Duve joined the faculty of the medical school of the Catholic University of Leuven in 1947 to teach physiological chemistry. He became a full professor in 1951, the same year when he rediscovered glucagon.
Cell biologists Albert Claude and George E. Palade had already performed some pioneering work in cell physiology at the Rockefeller University. De Duve built on their earlier research and used Claude’s recently developed centrifugal techniques to separate cell parts.
Further experiments in the same direction led to the discovery of the lysosome. Following this discovery, other researchers proceeded to identify more than 50 lysosomal enzymes and some genetic diseases that result when an enzyme either is absent or does not function properly.
In 1962, he was appointed a professor at the Rockefeller Institute in New York, now the Rockefeller University. He retained his appointment with Leuven and simultaneously headed the research laboratories at Leuven and at Rockefeller University. The Leuven University was split into two separate universities in 1969, and de Duve joined the French-speaking side of Université catholique de Louvain.
In 1974, de Duve in collaboration with fellow researchers founded the International Institute of Cellular and Molecular Pathology (ICP), a multidisciplinary biomedical research institute of the Leuven University. He became emeritus professor of Leuven University in 1985 and of Rockefeller in 1988.
A prolific writer, he authored many books including ‘A Guided Tour of the Living Cell’ (1984), and ‘Genetics of Original Sin: The Impact of Natural Selection on the Future of Humanity’ (2012).
Christian de Duve made numerous significant contributions to the understanding of the internal workings of cells. His rediscovery of glucagon and discoveries of lysosome and peroxisome helped understand the biology of Tay-Sachs disease along with several other genetic diseases.
Awards & Achievements
De Duve was honored with the Dr H.P. Heineken Prize for Biochemistry and Biophysics from the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1973.
In 1974, Christian de Duve, Albert Claude, and George Palade were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine "for their discoveries concerning the structural and functional organization of the cell."
He was given the E. B. Wilson Medal from the American Society for Cell Biology in 1989.
Personal Life & Legacy
Christian de Duve married Janine Herman on 30 September 1943. They had four children. His wife died in 2008, after more than six decades of marriage.
He lived a long life and suffered from numerous diseases, including cancer, when he was in his nineties. Long suffering from physical ailments, he decided to end his life by legal euthanasia and died on 4 May 2013, surrounded by his children.