Jean-Baptiste-Gabriel-Joachim Dausset was a French immunologist, who, along with Baruj Benacerraf and George Davis Snell, jointly won the 1980 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine. In his lifetime dedicated to research, his most significant contribution was the identification of human leukocyte antigens (HLA) and the genes that code for them. His research findings were considered to have had altered the existent understanding of human immune system. Jean Dausset pursued his studies in medicine from the University of Paris and served the French army during World War II, during when he was introduced to human blood transfusions. After the war, he began his career in research on exchange transfusion, understanding immune haemotology techniques and observing leuco-agglutination and thrombo-agglutination. His work was centered on the understanding the immunogenetics of blood cells. He was awarded the 1980 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his independent discovery of ‘genetically determined structures on the cell surface that regulate immunological reactions’. With the prize money he founded the Centre D’eute du Polymorphisme Humain. Jean Dausset was a member of prestigious professional societies like the National Academy of Sciences, American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the Académie des Sciences de l'Institut de France.
Childhood & Early Life
Jean-Baptiste-Gabriel-Joachim Dausset was born on 19 October 1916 at Toulouse in France. His father, Henri Dausset, was a physician who served as a captain in the army and his mother’s name was Elizabeth Brullard Dausset.
He spent the early days of his childhood at Biarritz, France. When he was 11 years old, he along with his family sifted to Paris. He pursued his secondary school education from the Lycée Michelet and earned his baccalaureate in mathematics.
As per his father’s interest, he enrolled at the University of Paris to study medicine. He was preparing himself for an internship entrance exam when the World War II broke out. During the war, he was sent to serve the French army and posted in North Italy for a year.
In 1940, he returned to Paris and successfully passed his medical internship entrance examination.
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After receiving the title of medical intern, he left for North Africa to join the fighting forces. As part of his duties, he performed blood transfusions. This was his initial exposure to immunohaematology.
He returned to Paris in 1944 and was assigned the task of collecting blood samples in Paris area in collaboration with the regional Blood Transfusion Centre at Hospital Saint- Antoine.
During this period he initiated his first research project with Professor Marcel Bessis, who had developed the technique of exchange transfusion in adults and new born babies.
In 1946, he joined the National Blood Transfusion Center as Director of laboratories. He worked at the Center till 1963. While working here he focused on the immunohaematology methods for red blood cells and attempted to utilize these techniques for white blood cells and blood platelets as well.
He conducted studies to confirm the existence of certain antibody types in the body. He conducted transfusions among volunteer patients and donors to understand immune responses.
In 1952, the initial observations regarding thrombo-agglutination and leuco-agglutination were made and since then his interest area was research regarding the immunogenetics of blood cells.
In 1958, he introduced the first leucocyte antigen MAC, which was later known as HLA-A2. He was serving as the Head of the Immuno- haematology laboratory at the National Blood Transfusion Center during the time.
During the early years in the 1960s, he served as an advisor to the Cabinet of the National Ministry of Education for three years. He worked towards reforming medical college and university structures along with the introduction of a law for full time employment and so on. His involvement benefitted both medical as well as educational systems in France.
In 1958, he also took up the post as Assistant Professor of Haematology at the Faculty of Medicine, Paris. In 1963, he was promoted to Professor and later appointed as the Head of the Department of Immunology at Hospital Saint Louis.
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He continued his research in areas like anemia, agglutination as well as antibodies, and, in 1965, described Hu-1, the first tissue group system, which was later named HLA.8Until 1968 he contributed to the establishment of the Research Institute in Blood Diseases also serving as Assistant Director. Among the departments he handled was the research wing on Immunogenetics of Human Transplantation. He became the Director of the unit since 1968.
In 1977, he was appointed as the head of the Immunology Department at the University of Paris. However, he retained his research activities at the laboratory in Hospital Saint Louis.
In 1984, he founded a center for genome research – Centre D’eute du Polymorphisme Humain (CEPH). He utilized his Nobel Prize money for setting up this center. In 2003, after HIS retirement he became the President of CEPH.
In his final years he was the chairman of the France Bone Marrow Grafts Registry, an agency that assists in matching bone marrow among donors and recipients.
Jean Dausset was an immunologist who focused on the research regarding genetics of immunological reactions. Among his research projects he studied hepatitis, colon- rectal cancer cells, cloning disease related genes and Crohn’s disease.
Awards & Achievements
The 1967 ‘Grand Prix des Sciences Chimiques et Naturelles’ (Académie des Sciences) was awarded to him. The same year he also won the ‘Médaille d'Argent du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique’.
He was awarded the 1969 Grand Prix Scientifique de la Ville de Paris.
In 1970, the Karl Landsteiner Memorial Award by the American Association of Blood Banks was awarded to him. He also received the Stratton Lecture Award that year.
He was awarded the Robert Koch Prize in 1977. The same year he received the Gairdner Foundation International Award.
In 1978, he was the recipient of the Wolf Prize in Medicine awarded by the Wolf Foundation in Israel.
He was the joint recipient of the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine along with Baruj Benacerraf and George D. Snell. The trio won the award "for their discoveries concerning genetically determined structures on the cell surface that regulate immunological reactions".
Personal Life & Legacy
James Dausset married Rose Mayoral in 1963 and the couple had two children named Henri and Irène.He died on 6 June 2009, in Majorca, Spain, at the age of 92.
In his honour the CEPH centre was renamed as the ‘Fondation Jean Dausset-CEPH’.