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Rolf Luft

Born 1914
Died 2007

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Swedish endocrinologist, born June 1914, Stockholm; died May 22, 2007.

Biography of Rolf Luft

Rolf Luft was born to a Jewish family on Söder in Stockholm. He graduated M.D. from Karolinska Institutet in 1940. After World War II Luft was one of the first to visit the United States to learn endocrinology from the great clinicians of the time. In 1949 he became docent (assistant professor) of endocrinology. In 1966 he was appointed professor of internal medicine. The first years he worked in the Sabbatsbergs sjukhus och Serafimerlasarettet.

In 1958 Luft and his collaborators moved from Serafimerlasarettet to new facilities at the Karolinska sjukhuset. The organization of this new unit was strongly influenced by Luft's experiences in the United States, with equal emphasis on therapy and research, a mixture that proved to function well. The new research department had 13 beds and a large laboratory.

At the time, hypophysectomy, introduced by the famous brain surgeon Herbert Olivecrona and Rolf Luft, had occasioned comprehensive studies of the function of growth hormone, in particular its diabetogenic effect.

From the 1950s to the 1990's Luft made a number of discoveries in mitochondrial research, and he coined the term mitochondrial medicine. In 1988 came a breakthrough, when it was discovered that a number of diseases were caused by imbalances of the oxidation process and that this was the case with diabetes. He was the first to show that stress hormones aggravate diabetes control and that the cells' production of insulin depends on inheritance. He was also a pioneer in the care of diabetes patients and established a specialized training for the nurses in the diabetes wards.

Rolf Luft was a manifold personality, influenced by his youth in Stockholm in the late 1930s and early 1940s, when many radical European intellectuals came to Sweden, and from 1933 in increasing numbers. This awakened his interest in politics, art and literature. He was physically active until high age, at all seasons, running or skiing.

Rolf Luft received many honours and awards. He was a member of the Nobel Committee 1961-1980 and its chairman 1976-1979. He was a member of a large number of national and international organisations and societies, and was made doctor of honour at several universities around the world. In 1973 he received Anders Jahre's Awards for Medical Research "for his comprehensive contribution to clinical endocrinological research".

The Rolf Luft Award is given to distinguished researchers in diabetes and endocrinology. In 1989 the Rolf Luft Research Centre for Endocrinology and Dialectology (Rolf Luft forskningscentrum för endokrinologi och diabetologi) was inaugurated in a new building on the area of the Karolinska Universitetssjukhuset. It has later been expanded and today comprises modern laboratory facilities in Rolf Luft Centrum. In 2004 he founded the Rolf Luft Foundation for Diabetes Research, with Professor Kerstin Brismar.

An ardent Zionist and supporter of Israel, Rolf Luft was a prominent member of the Zionist Federation of Sweden, as well as the Jewish Assembly in Stockholm.

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