Intended for healthcare professionals


Gerald Edelman

BMJ 2014; 348 doi: (Published 20 June 2014) Cite this as: BMJ 2014;348:g3873
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Winner of 1972 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

As a young US Army officer in the 1950s who was assigned to the European command, Gerald Edelman saw patients including generals and admirals at a military base outside Paris. Every few days he was assigned to the civilian American Hospital in Paris, where during his two years of military service he saw “thousands upon thousands of patients” and delivered “a fair number” of babies.

In his precious spare time, Edelman often visited the American Library on the Champs-Elysées, which “had books never cracked and a good section of scientific books,” he recalled half a century later in an interview in 2005.1 It was at the library that “a very signal event” occurred—he came across a book on immunology.

The young doctor was “amazed” that the book talked only about antigens, the foreign substances—such as viruses, bacteria, or chemicals—that trigger immune responses when injected into the body. “It occurred to me that . . . this doesn’t seem to me to be the central issue,” he recalled. “The central issue is antibodies. Well, my naiveté was remarkable—my ignorance was even more remarkable . . . but I got …

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