Bernardo A. Houssay
Bernardo Houssay was born on April 10, 1887 in Buenos Aires,
Argentina. Descendant from a prosperous French family, he started elementary
school attending third grade but fifteen days later, for being very superior to
other students, he was promoted to fourth grade; and one month later to fifth
grade. He finished elementary school when he was nine years old and at the age
of thirteen he had received his high school diploma.
He developed his vocation studying in the Pharmacy School of
the University of Buenos Aires and graduating at the age of 17. He continued his
studies in Medicine specializing in Physiology and graduated in 1911 at the age
of 23 with an academic recognition for his doctoral thesis in the research on
the hypophysis gland.
He continued a long and close relation with research and
education, aiming at the service of public interest. In 1913, he was designated
Chief of Physiology of the Alvear Hospital, later directed the Experimental
Laboratory in Physiology and Pathology and was designated Professor in
Physiology in the National School of Medicine of the University of Buenos Aires.
In 1919 he was appointed professor of Physiology of the
Faculty of Medicine and from that moment he resigned to every professional
activity and dedicated with complete dedication to his real vocation: the
experimental research and teaching. It was at the time when, on his initiative,
the Institute of Physiology of the Faculty of Medicine of Buenos Aires was
created, and he was selected as Director. Since then, he spent long days at the
Institute making experiments, directing, guiding the disciples and teaching
classes. Rapidly, the Institute turned into a center of world excellence in the
area of the scientific research.
Houssay's works contributed to the knowledge of the causes of a disease known from as "diabetes". It was then known that the origin of the diabetes was the difficulty of the body to metabolize or to process the carbon hydrates, and that difficulty was provoking an excess of glucose (sugar) in the blood. In 1889, he discovered that the cause was originated in the pancreas (a gland); but in 1921 the insulin was identified as a hormone liberated by the pancreas that prevents the excess of sugar in the blood. When the pancreas works incorrectly, insufficient insulin is produced and the diabetes appears.
Mentor and coordinator of the Institute of Physiology of the
School of Medicine, he managed to bring the activities at the same
internationally recognized level of excellence, performing this job until 1943
when he was fired for
political reasons during general Perón's presidency. Starting in 1944 he
developed an intense labor of investigation in the Institute of Biology and
Experimental Medicine that he funded with private support because he was forced
to abandon the official position.
Houssay devoted his time to investigate the function of the hypophysis in the diabetes. He discovered that diabetic dogs were improving when the hypophysis was extirpated and that the diabetes was worsening when a hormone formed by hypophysis was injected. With these studies, Houssay's team managed to understand the role of the hypophysis in the metabolic processes of the carbohydrates and in the diabetes, which was used as base for other investigators work on the role of different endocrine glands.
The Institute of Physiology started to be noticed among the most important of the world and Houssay received numerous foreign experts who came to work under his direction. Every year, more than eighty investigators were working at the Institute.
He obtained the Nobel prize of Medicine and Physiology, in 1947, was awarded with the first prize of sciences of Argentina; obtained the Charles Wickle prize granted by the University of Toronto (Canada); the Banting medal of the American Diabetes Association of North America; an award from the American Pharmaceutical Manufactures' of New York and the Baly Medal prize from England.
His professional career was finally fulfilled with international recognitions awarding him a special prize of the Society of Endocrinology in London in 1960, his incorporation as member of the National Academy of Argentine Medicine, the Academy of Letters, the Academy of Political Sciences and more than 40 honorary memberships in the principal academies, scientific societies and universities of the world.
The real award to his achievements extended furthermore to the point of having brilliant disciples graduate from his Institute. One of them, Luis Federico Leloir received the Chemistry Nobel Prize in 1970
In 1972, the OEA (Organization of American States) instituted
the Bernardo Houssay's award to reward the most important investigators of the
Bernardo Houssay died in Buenos Aires on the 21 of September of 1971 leaving an important legacy and dozens of disciples who would achieve international success.