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Denham Harman

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 03 March 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h1092
  1. Ned Stafford, Hamburg
  1. ns{at}

Proposed the free radical theory of ageing

As Denham Harman arrived home from work one evening in December 1945, his wife, Helen Harman, handed him the newest issue of the mass market magazine Ladies’ Home Journal. “Here’s something you might find interesting,” she told him.1

Mrs Harman had opened the magazine to an article entitled “Tomorrow You May Be Younger,” by William Laurence, a well known science writer for the New York Times.2 The article described the work of Alexander Bogomolets, a top scientist in the Soviet Union, who was investigating the potential of antireticular cytotoxic serum to slow the ageing process.3 4 5

The article would alter the course of Harman’s life. At the time, he held a doctorate in chemistry and was a successful researcher at Shell Oil Company—where he was involved in projects that eventually produced 35 basic patents. After reading the article, however, he could not stop pondering the ageing process, with the key question in his mind being: “Everything dies. Why?”

By 1949 Harman had concluded that he would not be able to unlock the secrets of ageing without a better understanding of the human body. So at the age of 33, with limited finances plus an 18 …

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