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Jews and Medical Science

by Dr Noel Hershfield, Nov 19, 2018

Winston Churchill, stated quote and the Jews, held up to universal hatred, where pillaged, maltreated, and finally expelled from the realm. Exception was made for certain physicians without whose skills purses of consequences might have lacked due attention.”

Jews have won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine 26% of the time. They have been 31% of the recipients of the Lasker award in Basic Medical Research. They have been awarded the Gairdner Foundation award 25% of the time and the Wolf Prize in Medicine 42% of the time. They have received the Louisa Gross Horwitz prize 42% of the time and 33% of the recipients of the GM Cancer Research Foundation Sloan Prize.

It is estimated that Jews are among the creators of history’s greatest life-saving medical and scientific advances (estimated 2.8 billion lives saved).

“Hence may be seen that God had not left us; if one persecutes us, another receives a civilly and courteously and if this Prince treats us ill, and other treats as well; if one banishes us out of his country and another invites us with a thousand privileges and do we see those republics do flourish and much increase in trade who admit Israelites?” Manasseh ben Israel 1290 A.D.

But it was not further economic progress alone that the Jews are value. It was a host of skills, not the least was the expertise in the medical arts. Indeed court positions of the rulers of Europe were Jews or crypto Jews. Frederick the Third   of the Holy Roman Empire, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, Elizabeth I of England, Louis XIV of France, Catherine Medici, and Catherine the Great of Russia, all at one time or another employed Jewish personal physicians. A Spanish philosopher and theologian who did not have any love for the Jews, Raymond Lully,said in the 13th century “Jews are universally entrusted by the great with the care of their health. Nor is the church free of this abomination, for nearly every monastery has their Jewish physician. Pope Martin the fourth, Nicholas the fourth, Boniface the eighth, Alexander VI, Julius the second, Leo the 10th, Clement the seventh, Paul the third, Gregory the 15th, Urban the eighth, and Innocent 10 all had Jewish personal physicians!”

Even in the Islamic world Jews were noted for their expertise in medicine. The great Jewish philosopher and physician, Maimonides was the physician to Saladin and his son. Many Muslim townships had Jewish physicians. They were also translators and transmitters to the Muslim world of medical scholarship, and later would play a great role in transmitting to Europe the scholarship of Muslim physicians. In the Middle Ages the Jews who were only about 1% of the whole population, constituted half of its physicians. During the last of the great European Jewish expulsion the medical centers in Vienna and Berlin lost nearly half of their physicians and the majority of their medical school faculties. Many were doing biomedical research and fled to the United States and helped to its meteoric rise in biomedical research therefore accounting for some of the 40% of the US Nobel Prizes in medicine. One third of the combined membership of the Life Science Division of the US National Academy of Sciences and its affiliated Institute of Medicine are Jews.

Jews were involved in so many medical advances that I’ve only picked out a few of the many.

The invention of local anesthesia and a discovery of novocaine by Alfred Einhorn.

The discovery of the ABO and others human blood groups and the Rh group by Karl Landsteiner who won the Nobel Prize in 1930 and of course was responsible for safe blood transfusions.

The isolation and discovery of penicillin by Ernst Chain. He shared the Nobel Prize with Sir Alexander Fleming and Howard Florey. Chain recognized the potential of the nearly forgotten discovery of penicillin. He actually isolated the active substance of penicillin and worked out its molecular structure.

The discovery of Streptomycin by Waxman and Schatz with is the first treatment of tuberculosis. They won the Nobel Prize in 1952 for this work.

The work on cortisone and the chemical synthesis of cortisone was discovered by Rice Dean and Kendall who shared the 1950 Nobel Prize for this work.

The discovery of neurotransmitters led to a shared Nobel Prize with Sir Henry Dale, Sir Bernard Cate and Julius Axelrod 1970 for their work which led to many improvements in the treatment of neurological disease such as Prozac and Paxil.

They also in combination with Leon Greenberg, and David Lester are responsible for the pain reliever Tylenol.

The development of oral contraceptives by Gregory Pincus.

The development of the polio vaccine by Salk and Sabin. The resulting near eradication of polio is estimated to be preventative in over one half million new cases of lifelong paralysis each year! 

The discovery of interferon by Alec Isaacs in combination with Jean Lindemann. This led to market value of $15 billion used in the treatment of multiple sclerosis, leukemia, lymphoma, melanoma, and hepatitis B and C.

The discovery of Herceptin, cancer chemotherapy, and the revolutionized idea of radiation of oncology all carried out by such scientists as Robert Weinberg, Louis Goodman, Alfred Gilman, and Sidney Farber. The development of radiation oncology by Henry Kaplan, generated much improvement in cash in cancer treatment. This was especially powerful in the treatment of non-Hodgkin’s and lymphomas in general in 1969 was the only biomedical scientist to be awarded the prestigious Atoms For Peace Award.

The discovery of retroviruses by David Baltimore and Howard Taman led to the sharing of the Nobel peace prize in 1975 and in combination with Horwitz Broder and Seagull led to the effective treatment of AIDS. Interestingly enough Seagull who was a senior director of molecular biology at Merck died in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie Scotland.

Probably one of the most important advances was the invention of radio immune assay by Rosalyn yellow and Solomon Berson this has revolutionized clinical and research in fields such as endocrinology and blood banking. Yalow received the Nobel Prize in 1977 for this work.

The discoveries simply go on and on. These include the discovery of the basic mechanisms of gene regulation, the discovery of RNA and the elucidation of its structure by many many researchers many of whom were Jewish. It would take another 10 articles to list the advances that were discovered by these Jewish scientists. These include the discovery of nuclear magnetic residents by Isadore Raby who received the Nobel Prize in 1944. And also another Nobel Prize by Felix Bloch in 1952 for their work in MRI diagnostic imaging techniques.

I was interested in this one because I met the inventor of the flexible endoscope by Basil Hirschowitz in Alabama. This has revolutionized the practice of medicine and led to not only visualizing the intestines but to many diagnostic and therapeutic techniques that are still being evaluated and improved.

The invention of focal emulsification cataract surgery by Giles Kelman is now the most widely used for cataract treatment in the world. More than 200 million such operations have been performed. The operation is now done as an outpatient. Kelman received the US National medal of technology in 1992 and the Lasker award for clinical medical research in 2004.

Two of the three Nobel Prize winners for 2018 were Jews.

With the increasingly tragic displacement of so many people in this world because of war, convulsions in the governments of many countries, the civilized West is now under bombardment from numerous refugee groups. The big question always raised by governments is what contribution will they make in their new homes. As far as the Jews are concerned, they have made their mark. Probably be a good idea to educate these unfortunate people that it is possible to survive and contribute in democratic countries, and that is going to be a very large effort by liberal countries in the future.

I couldn’t help but mention that when I was interning at the Mount Sinai Hospital in Minneapolis, a hospital that was built because the other ones in the community did not take Jews as physicians, I met Dr. Moses Barron who was instrumental in convincing Frederick Banting about the importance of the islet cell in the pancreas and its production of insulin, which he noted was absent.


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