Dorothy Hansine Andersen
|May 15, 1901
|March 3, 1963 (aged 61)
New York City, U.S.
|Johns Hopkins School of Medicine
|Mount Holyoke College
Johns Hopkins University
|Identifying cystic fibrosis and glycogen storage disease type IV
|University of Rochester
Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons
Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center
Armed Forces Institute of Pathology
Dorothy Hansine Andersen (May 15, 1901 – March 3, 1963) was the American physician and researcher who first identified and named cystic fibrosis. As a renowned pathologist and pediatrician at Columbia University’s Babies Hospital, she remained at the forefront of research and care for this new disease for the rest of her life.
Dorothy Hansine Andersen was born in Asheville, North Carolina, on May 15, 1901. Her family moved to New Jersey, where her father, Hans Peter Andersen, died in 1914. An only child, Andersen then began caring for her invalid mother, and they moved to St. Johnsbury, Vermont. Andersen's mother died there in 1920, leaving Andersen an orphan at 19 years of age.
In 1922, Andersen graduated with a BA degree in zoology and chemistry from Mount Holyoke College. She then attended Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, where she was introduced to medical research by Florence Rena Sabin- the first woman to be promoted to Professor at Hopkins’ medical school.
After graduation, Andersen served as a teaching assistant in anatomy at the Rochester School of Medicine under one of Sabin’s colleagues from Hopkins: George Corner. She continued her earlier research with Corner’s assistance and her first publications included detailed anatomic descriptions of the lymphatic and blood vessels in the reproductive organs of female pigs in 1927.
She then completed an internship in surgery at the Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, after which she was denied a residency in general surgery because of her gender. She was ill with hepatitis at the end of her internship, and spent the next year “loafing in Europe” (as she remembered it in an Archival note at Columbia University’s Health Science Library), mainly in France and Italy. On her return to the U.S., she accepted an entry-level job in hospital pathology and resumed her medical research.
She began working in 1929 at Columbia University’s Presbyterian Hospital (in the new Columbia University Medical Center) as an assistant in pathology.
While she was learning how to be a hospital pathologist, Andersen also resumed work on her earlier studies of the female reproductive tract in animal models. Over the next few years she published numerous related studies and eventually was awarded a doctorate degree (Doctor of Medical Sciences) at Columbia University in 1935. Her dissertation was titled “The relation of the endocrine glands to the female reproductive cycle.”
In 1935 Andersen was named the Assistant Pathologist at Babies Hospital (the pediatric hospital at Columbia University Medical Center). She remained there for the rest of her career.
While performing autopsies on infants and children who died with celiac disease she noted fluid-filled cysts surrounded by fibrotic scars in the pancreas, along with lung damage and infection which was worse in older children. Andersen believed that the lung and pancreatic damage came from a new disease, which she called "cystic fibrosis of the pancreas". Her research was published in the American Journal of Diseases of Children in 1938. She received the E. Mead Johnson Award in 1939 for this work.
During the decade following her landmark 1938 study, she was the first to diagnose cystic fibrosis (CF) in vivo, the first to treat patients with CF with a special diet as well as vitamins and pancreatic enzymes, the first to treat CF-related lung infections with antibiotics, and the first to recognize that CF was likely a genetic disease transmitted in a recessive manner.
In 1945, Andersen was recognized by Columbia University as an Assistant Pediatrician. In 1948, she received the Borden Award for her research in nutrition.
In 1951 Andersen (with Walter Kessler, a resident MD) reported heat prostration in a cohort of infants, some of whom had CF. In this second landmark study of CF by Andersen, she hypothesized that CF patients “are especially susceptible to heat prostration,” and that hypochloremia in that setting was “partly the result of vomiting and partly due to loss of chlorides by sweating”.
In 1952, she was named the Chief of Pathology at Columbia University’s Babies Hospital. Later that year, she received the Elizabeth Blackwell Award.
In 1953, she was a coauthor on the first report of excessive chloride loss in CF sweat: this was her third landmark study of CF. Though another coauthor (di Sant'Agnese) has been recognized as the first to make the critically-important observation about sweat chloride losses, it is likely that Andersen had a larger role in this discovery than previously suspected (potentially making this another example of the Matilda effect).
In 1954 Andersen was promoted to Associate Professor and in 1958 to Professor of Pathology at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons.
In addition to her research on CF, Andersen also described a rare glycogen storage disease, glycogen storage disease type IV (GSD IV) also known as Andersen's disease. It is caused by a lack of activity in glycogen-branching enzyme, resulting in accumulation of glycogen in the liver.
Anderson never married and had no children, though she was closely involved with the lives of her patients and friends, many of whom remained devoted to her throughout her life. She was a popular teacher and a brilliant researcher, and she enjoyed an active lifestyle that included hiking, canoeing, and carpentry. She was not overly concerned with her own appearance, and her clothing was mostly appropriate for her active lifestyle.
Andersen was a heavy smoker for years, and she underwent surgery for lung cancer in 1962. She died at the age of sixty-one on March 3, 1963, in New York. She was buried near her parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents in Oak Woods Cemetery in Chicago.
After her death, her work garnered further recognition: she was honored with the Distinguished Service Medal at the Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center  and was inducted into the National Women's Hall of Fame in 2002.