- A dictionary of medical eponyms

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.


  • Experience with hypophysectomy in man.
    Rolf Luft and Herbert Olivecrona (1891-1980).
    Journal of Neurosurgery, Chicago, 1953, 10: 301-316.
    Demonstration of the beneficial effect of hypophysectomy in cancer of the breast and of the testis.
  • Two cases of postural hypotension showing a deficiency in release of nor-epinephrine and epinephrine.
    Rolf Luft and Ulf. S. Von Euler.
    The Journal of Clinical Investigation, New Haven, November 1953, 32 (11): 1065-1069.
  • Body water and sodium in patients with acromegaly 1.
    Denis Ikkos, Rolf Luft, and Björn Sjögren.
    The Journal of Clinical Investigation, July 1954, 33(7): 989–994.
  • Enzymic activities of human skeletal muscle mitochondria: a tool in clinical metabolic research.
    Lars Ernster, Denis Ikkos, Rolf Luft
    Nature, December 12, 1959; 184 (4702): 1851-1854.
  • A case of severe hypermetabolism of nonthyroid origin with a defect in the maintenance of mitochondrial respiratory control : a correlated clinical, biochemical, and morphological study.
    Rolf Luft, Denis Ikkos, Genaro Palmieri, Lars Ernster, Björn Afzelius.
    Journal of Clinical Investigation, New York, 1962; 41: 1776-1804.
    The first description of a mitochondrial disease.
  • Splanchnic and peripheral glucose and amino acid metabolism in diabetes mellitus.
    John Waren, Philip Felig, Erol Cerasi, Rolf Luft.
    The Journal of Clinical Investigation, July 1972, 51 (7): 1870-1878.
  • Insulin resistance and decreased insulin response to glucose in lean type 2 diabetics.
    Alexandre Wajngot, Arved Roovete, Mladen Vranić, Rolf Luft, Suad Efendić.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, Washington D.C., July 1982, 79 (14): 4432-4436.
  • The development of mitochondrial medicine. Rolf Luft.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, September 13, 1994, 91(19): 8731-8738. Biographical:
  • Hans Löw and Kerstin Hall:
    Rolf Luft. Upptäckte den förste mitokondriesjukdomen – en milstolpe inom den kliniska patologin.
    Läkartidningen, Stockholm, 1989, 86 (15): 1389-1390.:
    In the series: Mannen bakom syndromet [The Man Behind the Syndrome].
  • Barry G. Firkin and Judith A. Whitworth:
    Dictionary of Medical Eponyms.
    The Parthenon Publishing Group. 1989. New edition in 2002.
  • Information was also found on the homepage of the Karolinska Institutet, Institutionen för molekylär medicin och kirurgi.

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