- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Reuben Leon Kahn

Born  1887
Died  1979

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American immunologist, born July 26, 1887, Kovno, Lithuania, Russian Empire, now Kaunas, Lithuania; died July 22, 1979, Miami.

Biography of Reuben Leon Kahn

Reuben Leon Kahn studied at the University of Valparaiso, Indiana; the University of New Haven, Connecticut; and in New York, where he became Dr. of science in 1916. Already 1913-1916 he was a bacteriologist with the Health Department, 1916-1917 research chemist at Harriman Research Laboratory, and from 1920 immunologist at the State Department of Health, Lansing, Michigan.

His work towards the Kahn test began in 1918 when he investigated blood reactions while a member of the U.S. Army Medical Service Corps. He held the rank of major.

While serving as an immunologist with the Michigan State Department of Health (1920-1928), Kahn found that, under carefully controlled conditions, the mixing of an infected blood sample, beef heart muscle serum, and a quantity of cholesterol would result in a clouding of the solution. Although this reaction has been known to give false positive results in persons recently vaccinated or suffering from diseases other than syphilis, it has proved more useful than the slower Wassermann test.

Kahn was an assistant professor of bacteriology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor from 1928 to 1948 and in 1951 became professor of serology at the University of Michigan. He was emerited in 1957. Kahn was then professor of microbiology (1968-1973) at Howard University Medical School, Washington D.C., after which he became a research consultant.

During the years 1957 to 1967 Kahn was supported by the Atomic Energy Commission in his investigations of radiation effects on animal immunity to disease. He found that radiation destroys the localization of antibody reactions with foreign proteins – a development that may allow the efficiency of inoculations to be greatly increased.

Kahn produced over 170 scientific publications.


  • William Montague Cobb (1903-1990):
    Reuben Leon Kahn, D.Sc, LL.D., M.D., Ph.D.— 1887.
    Journal of the National Medical Association, New York, September 1971, 63 (5): 388-394.

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