Baruj Benacerraf

National Medal of Science

Biological Sciences

For his fundamental contributions to the understanding of the immune system, including much of the work which forms the basis of knowledge of transplantation immunology and regulatory function in the immune response.

For his fundamental contributions to the understanding of the immune system, including much of the work which forms the basis of knowledge of transplantation immunology and regulatory function in the immune response.

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Birth
October 29, 1920
Age Awarded
70
Country of Birth
Venezuela
Key Contributions
Discover Ir Genes Involved In Transplant Rejection
Awarded by
George H. W. Bush
Education
Virginia Commonwealth University
Columbia University
Areas of Impact
Health & Medicine
Affiliations
Harvard Medical School
Other Prizes
Nobel Prize
B

Baruj Benacerraf’s father had hoped he would one day take over the family textile business in Caracas, Venezuela, where Benacerraf was born in 1920, but fate had other plans. As a child with bronchial asthma, Benacerraf held a lifelong fascination with immunology, and eventually unraveled the genetic codes that determine why certain individuals contract diseases while others do not.

Benacerraf bounced between Venezuela, France and the United States during his childhood and early professional life, thanks to a combination of war, business interests and a struggle — both as an immigrant and a Jew — to establish a career. As a professor at New York University in the 1960s, Benacerraf injected a number of guinea pigs with a foreign substance, discovering that the immune systems in nearly half of the animals failed to respond. He later pinpointed the genetic variation responsible, concluding that the vulnerabilities were hereditary. The knowledge opened the door for a wave of new genetic epiphanies, and allowed doctors to better understand why organ transplants fail in certain patients.

By Lauren Clason

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