Johannes Andreas Grib Fibiger


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(1867–1928) Danish physician

Fibiger, born the son of a physician at Silkeborg in Denmark, was educated at the University of Copenhagen, completing his medical studies in 1890. After some hospital work and further study in Berlin under Robert Koch and Emil von Behring, Fibiger joined the Institute of Pathological Anatomy at the University of Copenhagen in 1897, serving there as its director from 1900.

It was realized that cancers could be chemically induced by factors in the environment but all attempts to induce such cancers artificially had failed. Fibiger thought he could change this when, in 1907, he observed extensive papillomatous tumors virtually filling the stomachs of three wild rats. Microscopic examination showed the presence in the stomachs of formations similar to nematode worms, and Fibiger naturally concluded that these parasites were the cause of the tumors. A search of a further 1200 wild rats, however, produced no additional cases of cancer. This suggested to him that the nematodes were transmitted by an intermediate host, and a report published in 1878 confirmed that such nematodes had been found as parasites of a common kind of cockroach. Before long Fibiger found rats from a sugar refinery that fed regularly on the cockroaches there: examination of 61 of these rats showed that 40 had nematodes in their stomachs and 7 of these 40 had the earlier identified tumor.

By 1913 Fibiger was able to claim that he could induce such malignancies in rats by feeding them with cockroaches infested with nematode larvae, noting a proportional relationship between the number of parasites and the degree of anatomic change in the stomach. It was for this work, described somewhat extravagantly by the Nobel Committee as the “greatest contribution to experimental medicine in our generation,” that Fibiger was awarded the 1926 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine.

Although no one disputed that Fibiger had induced cancer it was never completely accepted that such growths were caused by the nematodes. In any case Fibiger's work had little impact on experimental cancer research: simpler methods of carcinogenesis were almost universally preferred.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.

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