Johannes Andreas Grib Fibiger
Biography of Johannes Andreas Grib Fibiger
The Danish pathologist Johannes Andreas Grib Fibiger in 1927 received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for 1926 “for his discovery of the Spiroptera carcinoma.” Fibiger had achieved the first controlled induction of cancer in laboratory animals, a development of profound importance to cancer research.
Fibiger was born on Jutland, the son of a physician, and went to Copenhagen where he completed his medical studies and obtained his doctorate in 1890. He then received a position as assistant at the Bacteriological Institute under Carl Julius Salomonsen (1847-1924), and at the Blegdam Hospital for Epidemic Diseases. Fibiger also studied with the bacteriologists Robert Koch (1843-1910) and Emil Adolf von Behring (1854-1917) in Berlin, becoming their friend. He was habilitated for pathological anatomy in 1895, became prosector at the pathological-anatomical institute, and in 1900 was appointed professor of pathological anatomy at the University of Copenhagen.
Fibiger’s first works concerned diphteriae and tuberculosis. He developed methods for growing the causing-causing bacteria in the laboratory, and also produced a serum to protect against the disease.
In 1907, while dissecting rats infected with tuberculosis, Fibiger observed what appeared to be cancerous growths in the stomach of three animals. After intensive research, he discovered that the tumours, apparently malignant, followed an inflammation of stomach tissue caused by the larvae of a spiral worm now known as Gongylonema neoplasticum. The worms had infected cockroaches eaten by the rats. From this period he concentrated all his efforts on cancer research and, two years later, published his first work on animal experiments, particularly on cancer.
In 1913 Fibiger published the description of spiroptera cancer for which he later received the Nobel Prize. By 1913 he was able to induce tumours consistently in mice and rats – more than 100 - by feeding them cockroaches infected with the worm. By showing that the tumours underwent metastasis (the formation of cancerous tumours in unconnected organs without transfer of parasites or microorganisms), he added important support to the prevalent concept that cancer is caused by tissue irritation. Fibiger’s work immediately led the Japanese pathologist Yamagiwa Katusaburo to produce cancer in laboratory animals by painting their skins with coal-tar derivates, a procedure soon adopted by Fibiger himself.
Although it has been shown that a vitamin A deficiency was a major cause of tumours in Fibiger’s animals, that parasites play an insignificant role in causing cancer, and that tissue irritation is only one of many direct causes of cancer, Fibiger’s findings were a necessary prelude to the production of chemical carcinogens, a vital step in the development of modern cancer research. His work stimulated others to pursue cancer research.
Fibiger was also active as a journalist. He was a co-founder of the Acta pathologica et microbiologica scandinavica, and co-publisher of Ernst Zieglers Beiträge zur pathologischen Anatomie und allgemeinen Pathologie.