Baruj Benacerraf
Benacerraf in 1969
Born(1920-10-29)October 29, 1920[5]
Caracas, Venezuela[6]
DiedAugust 2, 2011(2011-08-02) (aged 90)
Alma mater
Known forMajor histocompatibility complex
Annette Dreyfus
(m. 1943; died 2011)
Children1 daughter
Scientific career
FieldsImmunology, medicine

Baruj Benacerraf (/bɪˈnæsərəf/; October 29, 1920 – August 2, 2011) was a Venezuelan-American immunologist, who shared the 1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for the "discovery of the major histocompatibility complex genes which encode cell surface protein molecules important for the immune system's distinction between self and non-self."[8][9] His colleagues and shared recipients were Jean Dausset and George Davis Snell.

Early life and education

Benacerraf was born in Caracas, Venezuela on October 29, 1920, to a Moroccan-Venezuelan Sephardic Jewish father, Abraham Benacerraf, and Algerian Jewish mother, Henrietta Lasry.[6] His father was a textile merchant. His brother was philosopher Paul Benacerraf. He moved to Paris from Venezuela with his family in 1925. After going back to Venezuela, he emigrated to the U.S. in 1940. That same year, Benacerraf attended Lycée Français de New York, where he earned a Baccalauréat (an academic qualification French students achieve after high school and a diploma necessary to begin university studies).[10]

In 1942, he earned his B.S. at Columbia University School of General Studies. He then went on to obtain his Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) degree from the Medical College of Virginia, the only school to which he was accepted due to his Jewish background.[11][12] Shortly after beginning medical school, Benacerraf became a naturalized U.S. citizen.[13]

From his Nobel autobiography: "By that time, I had elected to study biology and medicine, instead of going into the family business, as my father would have wanted. I did not realize, however, that admission to Medical School was a formidable undertaking for someone with my ethnic and foreign background in the United States of 1942. In spite of an excellent academic record at Columbia, I was refused admission by the numerous medical schools I applied to and would have found it impossible to study medicine except for the kindness and support of George W. Bakeman, father of a close friend, who was then Assistant to the President of the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond. Learning of my difficulties, Mr. Bakeman arranged for me to be interviewed and considered for one of the two remaining places in the Freshman class."[9]


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After his medical internship, US Army service (1945–48), and working at the military hospital of Nancy, France, he became a researcher at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons (1948–50). He performed research in Paris (1950–56), relocated to New York University (1956–68), moved to the National Institutes of Health (1968–70), then joined Harvard University medical school in Boston (1970–91) where he became the Fabyan Professor of comparative Pathology, concurrently serving the Dana–Farber Cancer Institute (1980). He began studying allergies in 1948, and discovered the Ir (immune response) genes that govern transplant rejection in the 1960s. Including a variety of different editions, Benacerraf is an author of over 300 books and articles.[14]

At Columbia, Benacerraf got his start in immunology with Elvin A. Kabat in 1948. He spent two years in Kabat's laboratory working on experimental hypersensitivity mechanisms.[11] He then moved to Paris because of family issues and accepted a position in Bernard Halpern's laboratory at the Hôpital Broussais. Here he also formed a close relationship with Italian scientist Guido Biozzi. For six years he worked on the reticuloendothelial function in relation to immunity. The reticuloendothelial function is the white blood cells inside of a barrier tissue. While there they discovered techniques to study the clearance of particulate matter from the blood by the RES (reticuloendothelial system), and devised equations that govern this process in mammals. After six years, Baruj returned to the United States in 1956 because he could not establish his own independent laboratory in France. He was recruited to the faculty of New York University (NYU), established his own laboratory, and returned to his studies on hypersensitivity.[11]

In New York, Baruj worked with several other immunologists on different fields of hypersensitivity. After working in his New York lab, Baruj turned his attention towards the training of new scientists, and made the decision to devote himself to his laboratory practices, instead of the family business. At this time Baruj also made the discovery that would go on to win him the Nobel Prize. He noticed that if antigens (something that causes a reaction with the immune system) were injected into animals with a similar heredity, two groups emerged: responders and non-responders. He then conducted further study and found that the dominant autosomal genes, termed the immune response genes, determined the response to certain antigens. This complex process would lead to the understanding of how these genes would determine immune responses.

His discovery still holds true, and more has been discovered over the last century. More than 30 genes have been discovered in a gene complex called the major histocompatibility complex. The histocompatibility complex is a complex part of DNA that controls the immune response. This research has also led to clarify autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis.[9]


He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1971.[15]

Other notable awards include:

Honorary degrees received

Later years and death

His autobiography was published in 1998.[16] Benacerraf died on August 2, 2011, in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts of pneumonia.[4] His wife, Annette, predeceased him by two months.[17] Their daughter, Beryl, who died in late 2022,[18][19] was a Harvard Medical School graduate who taught at Harvard and was a director at the Brigham and Women's Hospital, as well as the Massachusetts General Hospital.[20][21][22]

See also


  1. ^ Raju, T. N. (1999). "The Nobel Chronicles". The Lancet. 354 (9191): 1738. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(05)76734-9. PMID 10568613. S2CID 53271210.
  2. ^ "The Nobel Lectures in Immunology. The Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, 1980 awarded to Baruj Benacerraf, Jean Daussett & George D. Snell". Scandinavian Journal of Immunology. 35 (4): 373–98. 1992. PMID 1557610.
  3. ^ Petrányi, G. (1981). "Nobel Prize winners in medicine for 1980. Immunogenetic significance of the main histocompatibility system (George Snell, Jean Dausset, Baruj Benacerraf)". Orvosi Hetilap. 122 (14): 835–837. PMID 7019812.
  4. ^ a b Gellene, Denise (August 2, 2011). "Dr. Baruj Benacerraf, Nobel Laureate, Dies at 90". The New York Times.
  5. ^ Biographical data, nobel Accessed November 10, 2022.
  6. ^ a b Moseley, Caroline (November 23, 1998). "Whatever I am now, it happened here". Princeton Weekly Bulletin. Princeton University. Retrieved October 13, 2011.
  7. ^ Muere el premio Nobel de medicina Baruj Benacerraf. El Universal (August 2, 2011)
  8. ^ Germain, R. N.; Paul, W. E. (2011). "Baruj Benacerraf (1920–2011) Immunologist who won Nobel for genetics of T-cell antigen recognition". Nature. 477 (7362): 34. doi:10.1038/477034a. PMID 21886149.
  9. ^ a b c Baruj Benacerraf – Biographical.
  10. ^ Paul, William E. (2014). "Baruj Benacerraf" (PDF). National Academy of Sciences.
  11. ^ a b c "Baruj Benacerraf Biography - life, family, story, wife, school, mother, young, book, information, born, college, husband". Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  12. ^ "Baruj Benacerraf". Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  13. ^ "Baruj Benacerraf American immunologist". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved December 29, 2018.
  14. ^ "Results for author:Benacerraf, Baruj". OCLC. Retrieved August 4, 2011.
  15. ^ "Book of Members, 1780–2010: Chapter B" (PDF). American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved June 2, 2011.
  16. ^ Baruj Benacerraf (1998). From Caracas to Stockholm: a life in medical science. Prometheus Books. ISBN 978-1-57392-227-2. OCLC 39093634.
  17. ^ Well, Martin (August 3, 2011). "Nobel Prize-winning immunologist Benacerraf, 90, dies". Washington Post. Retrieved September 3, 2016.
  18. ^ "Celebrating the life of Dr Beryl Benacerraf".
  19. ^ "BERYL BENACERRAF Obituary (2022) New York Times". Retrieved November 10, 2022.
  20. ^ "Dr. Libby Weds Beryl Benacerraf". The New York Times. November 23, 1975. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  21. ^ Satija, Neena; Feeney, Mark (August 3, 2011). "Baruj Benacerraf, 90; shared 1980 Nobel Prize". Retrieved July 22, 2020.
  22. ^ "Beryl Benacerraf M.D." Retrieved July 22, 2020.