Jean Dausset

(b. 1916)

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(1916–) French physician and immunologist

Dausset, the son of a doctor from Toulouse in southern France, gained his MD from the University of Paris in 1945 following wartime service in the blood transfusion unit. He was professor of hematology at the University of Paris from 1958 and professor of immunohematology from 1968. He was professor of experimental medicine at the Collège de France from 1977 to 1987.

Dausset's war experience stimulated his interest in transfusion reactions, and in 1951 he showed that the blood of certain universal donors (those of blood group O), which had been assumed safe to use in all transfusions, could nonetheless be dangerous. This was because of the presence of strong immune antibodies in their plasma, which develop following antidiphtheria and antitetanus injections. Donor blood is now systematically tested for such antibodies.

In the 1950s Dausset noticed a peculiar feature in the histories of patients who had received a number of blood transfusions: they developed a low white blood cell (leukocyte) count. He suspected that the blood transfused could well have contained antigens that stimulated the production of antibodies against the leukocytes. With insight and considerable courage Dausset went on to claim that the antigen on the blood cells, soon to be known as the HLA or human lymphocyte antigen, was the equivalent of the mouse H2 system, described by George Snell.

The significance of Dausset's work was enormous. It meant that tissues could be typed quickly and cheaply by simple blood agglutination tests as opposed to the complicated and lengthy procedure of seeing if skin grafts would take. Such work made the technically feasible operation of kidney transplantation a practical medical option, for at last the danger of rejection could be minimized by rapid, simple, and accurate tissue typing. Further confirmation of Dausset's work was obtained when the specific regions of the HLA gene complex were later identified by J. van Rood and R. Ceppellini as a single locus on human chromosome 6.

Dausset later shared the 1980 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine with Snell and Baruj Benacerraf.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

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