US pathologist who pioneered cancer research and discovered that cancer can be caused by a virus, though his work was not recognized until fifty-six years later when he was awarded the 1966 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.
Rous qualified at the Johns Hopkins Hospital, Baltimore (1900), and became an instructor in pathology at the University of Michigan. In 1909 he began work on a programme of cancer research at the Rockefeller Institute and, after only a few weeks, he managed to transplant a naturally occurring connective tissue tumour (Rous sarcoma) from one hen to another by grafting tumour cells. More significantly, he showed that an injection of a cell-free filtrate of the tumour could still cause cancer, suggesting a viral cause. This discovery was regarded with suspicion for many years although Rous and his co-workers were able to show the nature of the growth and the causal agent (called the Rous sarcoma virus). Disheartened, Rous abandoned cancer research and carried out important work on the functions of the gall bladder and the difference in acidity of animal tissues; during World War I he devised methods of preserving blood for several weeks.
In 1933, after R. E. Shope discovered a growth in rabbits that often progressed to cancer, Rous took up his studies again and demonstrated several ways in which carcinogenic chemicals and tumour-inducing viruses act together to speed up tumour production. He also discovered that carcinogenic action consists of two phases – initiation, which gives a cell malignant potential; and promotion, in which the potential is realized as an actively growing cancer. In his later years Rous was awarded many honours, including the Nobel Prize, which he shared with Charles B. Huggins (1901– ).
Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Science and Mathematics.