George Richards Minot
Biography of George Richards Minot
In 1934, George Richards Minot, William Parry Murphy 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.
George Richards Minot was the eldest son of James Jackson Minot (1853-1938), a physician, and Elizabeth Whitney (1860-1903), from whom he inherited the inquisitiveness and industry of cultured forebears successful in Boston’s business and professional life. His ancestor, George Minot, had migrated to America in 1630, from Saffron Walden, England. In his youth Minot was interested in butterflies and moths, and he published two articles on butterflies.
Minot studied at the Harvard University, where he received the A.B. in 1908 and became Doctor of Medicine in 1912. He did his hospital training at the Massachusetts General Hospital and then worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital and Medical School from 1913 to 1915 under William Sydney Thayer (1864-1932) and William Henry Howell (1860-1945).
In 1915 he became assistant in medicine at Massachusets General Hospital as well as in the Department of Medicine at the Harvard Medical School. In 1922 he became Physician-in-Chief of the Collis P. Huntington Memorial Hospital of Harvard University, and later was appointed to the Staff of the Peter Bent Brigham Hospital.
Minot was appointed assistant professor at Harvard in 1917, 1927 clinical professor, and 1928 professor of medicine. In 1928 he became director of the Thorndike Memorial Laboratory, Boston City Hospital. He remained in this position until 1948.
A raw diet
Minot's outstanding contribution to science was the discovery in 1926, with William Parry Murphy, of the successful treatment of pernicious anemia by liver feeding, for which they shared the 1934 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine with George Hoyt Whipple.
While in the private practice of medicine in Boston with an appointment as associate in medicine at the Massachusets General Hospital (1918-1923), Minot had become convinced of the inadequacy of the diets of many patients with pernicious anemia. Consequently, he was prepared to make a thorough trial of the effects of liver feeding, wich was reported by Whipple as especially potent in preventing an experimental anemia due to chronic, periodic blood removal in dogs.
Whipple had shown that anaemia in dogs, induced by excessive bleeding, is reversed by a diet of raw liver, and, in 1926, Minot and Murphy found that ingestion of half a pound of raw liver a day dramatically reversed pernicious anemia in human beings.
With the U.S. chemist Edwin J. Cohn (1892-1953), Minot succeeded in preparing effective liver extracts, which, taken daily, constituted the primary treatment for pernicious anemia until 1948, when a therapeutic factor was isolated and named vitamin B12.
Minot was an outstanding teacher and investigator who whilst seemingly relaxed and prepared to give lenghty time to discussion with young investigators, put in prodigous time to his work. Not only did he possess the desire to explain the previously inexplicable but he imparted this to the younger people who worked with him on whom he impressed his urge to alleviate suffering and disability and his intense enthusiasm for teaching. He stated "to solve problems, an active, creative imagination and scientific curiosity are necessary tools".
Minot’s work and that of numerous pupils during the decade after 1926 initiated a new era in clinical haematology by replacing the largely morphologic studies of the blood and of the blood-forming and blood-destroying organs with dynamic measurements of their functions. Today the use of radioisotopic labelling of the formed elements of the blood, together with biochemical and biophysical analyses, are extending this revolution in depth.
Minot was still a medical student when he became interested in the disorders of the blood with which his name is associated and he published during his life many papers on this and other subjects. Among the many significant contributions of Minot and his associates were early work on blood transfusion, blood coagulation, and blood platelets, and classical studies of the haematological effects of irradiation in chronic leukaemias and lymphoid tumours. Later came successful treatment of hypochromic anaemia with sufficient iron; and demonstration that haemophilia is due to lack of aglobulin substance present in normal plasma. He also studied the condition of the blood in certain cases of industrial poisoning.
Marriage and sickness
In 1915 Minot married Marian Linzee Weld (1890-1979) of Milton, Massachusetts. There were two daughters and one son by this marriage. He was an amateur naturalist, cultivator of irises, and summer sailor of the coast of Maine.
In 1921 Minot developed diabetes and his condition gradually worsened until 1923, when insulin became available and he returned to work. He suffered a cerebral thrombosis in 1947 which left him partially paralyzed, and died on February 25, 1950.