Columbians Ahead of Their Time
 Baruj Benacerraf
Baruj Benacerraf "Through work does one reach the stars!"

Baruj Benacerraf (1920– )
General Studies 1942

A distinguished pathologist, Baruj Benacerraf shared the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for cancer research that led to the discovery of genetic structures that regulate immunological responses. Born in Caracas and reared in Paris, Benacerraf left war-torn France for New York in 1940. After completing his medical studies, he served in the United States Army. Deciding to pursue a career in research upon his discharge in 1947, Benacerraf studied immunology in both France and the United States, working with many leaders in the field before accepting the chairmanship of Harvard Medical School's pathology department in 1970. Currently president emeritus of the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Benacerraf is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Science, and has received several major awards for his work in addition to the Nobel. He is also an art collector and an accomplished flutist.

Benacerraf graduated from Columbia in 1942, completing his BS and the prerequisites for medical school in two years. It was through the French Club that he met Annette Dreyfus, a French refugee and Barnard student, whom he married in 1943. Despite a sterling record at Columbia, Benacerraf was denied admission to many medical schools—perhaps, he has suggested, due to a wartime bias against his ethnicity and foreign background. With the assistance of a family friend, however, he was admitted to the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. After receiving his medical degree, in February 1948 he began his research career under Elvin Kabat at the Neurological Institute of the College of Physicians and Surgeons. In a brief autobiography prepared for the Nobel Foundation, Benacerraf credited Kabat with teaching him immunochemistry and basic immunology. "But more importantly," he wrote, "I learned the significance of experimental proof, the need for intellectual honesty and scientific honesty." Benacerraf was honored by the School of General Studies in 1997.

Nominated by Oliver Libby.

Photograph courtesy of Alan S. Orling

Read more about Benacerraf in the Columbia Encyclopedia.

Nobel Laureate

Benacerraf's 1980 prize.

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