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Casimir Funk

(1884—1967) Polish-born American biochemist


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(1884–1967) Polish-American biochemist Funk, born the son of a dermatologist in the Polish capital of Warsaw, obtained his doctorate from the University of Bern in 1904. He worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, the University of Berlin, and the Lister Institute in London, before emigrating to America in 1915. Although he became naturalized in 1920, Funk returned to Poland in 1923 as director of the Warsaw Institute of Hygiene, but finding the political conditions unattractive moved to Paris in 1927, where he acted as a consultant to a drug company and founded a private research institute, the Casa Biochemica. In 1939 Funk returned to America, where he served as consultant to the US Vitamin Corporation and as president of the Funk Foundation for medical research.

It was while working at the Lister Institute in 1912 that Funk first clearly formulated his crucial idea that certain diseases are caused by food deficiencies. He was working on the antiberiberi factor, which he succeeded in extracting from rice husks. He went on to postulate that there were comparable ingredients whose absence from a regular diet would produce scurvy, rickets, and pellagra.

Noting that the antiberiberi factor contained an amine (–NH2) group, Funk proposed to call such ingredients ‘vital amines’, or ‘vitamines’. When it became clear that the amine group was not present in all ‘vitamines’ the term vitamin came to be preferred.

From A Dictionary of Scientists in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Science and Mathematics.


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