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Daniel Carleton Gajdusek

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Daniel Carleton Gajdusek
Born September 9, 1923(1923-09-09)
Yonkers, New York, U.S.
Died December 12, 2008(2008-12-12) (aged 85)
Tromsø, Norway
Nationality United States
Fields Medicine
Known for Prion
Notable awards Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine (1976)

Daniel Carleton Gajdusek (September 9, 1923 - December 12, 2008) was an American physician and medical researcher. He and Baruch S. Blumberg won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1976. They got the Nobel for work on kuru. Kuru is the first human prion disease shown to be infectious.

Early years

Gajdusek's father, Karol Gajdusek, was from Büdöskö, Kingdom of Hungary, now Smrdáky, Slovakia. He was an ethnic Slovak who was a butcher. His mother's parents from Debrecen, Hungary. Gajdusek was born in Yonkers, New York. He graduated from the University of Rochester in 1943. Gajdusek studied physics, biology, chemistry and mathematics. He got an M.D. from Harvard University in 1946. His postdoctoral research was done at Columbia University, the California Institute of Technology, and Harvard. In the early 1950s, Gajdusek was drafted into the military as a research virologist at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.[1] In 1954 he went to work at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne, Australia. In Australia, he began the work that led to his getting the Nobel Prize.


Gajdusek's best-known work was on kuru. This disease was affecting many people among the South Fore people of New Guinea in the 1950s and 1960s. Gajdusek felt there was a connect between the spread of the disease and the funerary cannibalism by the South Fore people. He lived among the Fore and studied their language and culture. He also performed autopsies on people who died of kuru.

Gajdusek thought that that kuru was spread by the ritualistic eating of the brains of dead family members. He proved this idea by infecting primates with the disease and showing that it had an very long incubation period of several years.[2] When the cannibalism was stopped, kuru stopped spreading in just one generation. This was the first time it was shown that a non-inflammatory degenerative disease could be spread in humans.

Gajdusek was not able to identify what exactly spreads kuru. Other research by Stanley Prusiner and others led to the finding of proteins called prions that caused these disease and other similar diseases.

Some people in the medical community, do not think that cannibalism was still practiced when Gajdusek did his research. Willam Arens, an anthropologist, says that Gajdusek never saw cannibalism himself.[3] Researchers who worked with the Fore in the 1950s say that cannibalism was stopped in 1948.[4] This was almost a decade before Gajdusek went to New Guinea. Many other researchers, including Robert Klitzman, S. Lindenbaum, R. Glasse, and researchers at the Papua New Guinea Institute of Medical Research have made reports that say that the cannibalism still happened.

Gajdusek became head of the laboratories for virological and neurological research at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 1958. He was made a part of the National Academy of Sciences in 1974. He gave them the chance to have high school and college education. This was based on things in his own diary and what the victim told police. He said this was true in 1997 and was sent to jail for 12 months. After he got out of jail in 1998, he went to Europe. He never returned to the United States and lived in Amsterdam, Paris, and Tromsø.[5]


Gajdusek died December 12, 2008 in Tromsø, Norway, at the age of 85.[6]


  1. Maugh (December 18, 2008). "D. first = Thomas". Los Angeles Times.,0,4256516.story. Retrieved September 20, 2010.
  2. Gajdusek DC, Gibbs CJ, Alpers M (January 1967). "Transmission and passage of experimenal "kuru" to chimpanzees". Science 155 (3759): 212–4. doi:10.1126/science.155.3759.212 . PMID 6015529 .
  3. Arens, William. The Man-Eating Myth. Oxford University Press, 1979.
  4. Berndt, R.M. Excess and Restraint. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962.
  5. "The Genius and the Boys". BBC Four. June 5, 2009. Retrieved September 20, 2010.
  6. McNeil, Donald (December 15, 2008). "D. Carleton Gajdusek, Who Won Nobel for Work on Brain Disease, is Dead at 85". New York Times. Retrieved 2008-12-16.

Other websites

This person won a Nobel Prize
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