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William Parry Murphy

Born 1892
Died 1987

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American physician, born February 6, 1892, Stoughton, Wisconsin; died October 9, 1987, Brookline, Massachusetts.

Biography of William Parry Murphy

In 1934, William Parry Murphy, George Richards Minot and George Hoyt Whipple received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine "for their discoveries concrning liver therapy in cases of anaemia". Pernicious anemia was previously an invariably fatal disease.

William Parry Murphy was the son of Thomas Francis Murphy and Rose Anna Parry. His father was congregational minister with various pastorates in Wisconsin and Oregon. William Parry was educated at the public schools of Wisconsin and Oregon and at the University of Oregon, where he took his A.B. degree in 1914.

For the next two years he taught physics and mathematics at the high schools of Oregon, and then spent one year at the University of Oregon Medical School at Portland, where he also acted as a laboratory assistant in the Department of Anatomy. He then attended a summer course at the Rush Medical School in Chicago and was later awarded the William Stanislaus Murphy Fellowship at Harvard Medical School, Boston. He held this Fellowship for three years and graduated as a Doctor of Medicine in 1922.

Two years as House Officer at the Rhode Island Hospital followed and he then became Assistant Resident Physician at the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital under Professor Henry Asbury Christian (1876-1951). This appointment he held for eighteen months and then he was appointed Junior Associate in Medicine at this hospital.

Pernicious anaemia
In 1923 Murphy practised medicine for a time and subsequently engaged in research on diabetes mellitus and on diseases of the blood. Murphy's work on pernicious and other forms of anaemia was outstanding. In 1924, Murphy bled dogs to make them anemic, and then fed them various substances and gauged their improvement. He discovered that ingesting large amounts of liver seemed to cure the disease.

In 1926, Murphy and George Richards Minot reported success in the treatment of pernicious anemia with a liver diet. Their discovery culminated in 1948 in Vitamin B12 therapy, by which a previously fatal disorder became treatable. The Minot-Murphy research was suggested by George H. Whipple’s demonstration that liver is essential for blood formation in animals – enabling dogs rendered anaemic by exsanguination to restore their haemoglobin most rapidly.

Murphy received many honours and was a member of numerous medical and allied societies at home and abroad, including the Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina.

Murphy married Pearl Harriett Adams on September 10, 1919. They had one son, Dr. William P. Murphy, Jr. and one daughter, Priscilla Adams, who died in 1936.

This article is based on the autobiography/biography written at the time of the Nobel award and later published in the book series Les Prix Nobel/Nobel Lectures. It was later printed in Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1922-1941, Elsevier Publishing Company, Amsterdam, 1965. We found it on The Official Web Site of the Nobel Foundation.

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