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News Brief

January 20, 1929
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Stricken during his experiments with diets for sufferers of pellagra, the disease for which he found the cause and cure, Dr. Joseph Goldberger, Public Health Service scientist who is considered to have made some of the most important contributions to medicine in the United States in the last twenty-five years, died yesterday morning in the Naval Hospital of hypernephroma, a malignant kidney growth closely related to cancer. Dr. Goldberger suffered from anemia, one of the symptoms of pellagra, but did not respond to treatment. Twenty doctors connected with the Public Health Service, offered their blood for transfusions during his two months’ illness, but this emergency treatment had no result. After six operations this treatment was not resorted to again.

Dr. G. W. McCoy, director of the hygienic laboratory of the Public Health Service, said that Dr. Goldberger’s work on pellagra was valuable not only for the discovery of its cause and cure but the new light shed on the whole subject of the human diet. Before Dr. Goldberger’s work, pellagra was a dread malady in the South, causing inactivity and death. The discovery of “vitamin P. P.,” pellagra preventive, is considered as probably his greatest contribution to medical science. He showed that it is contained in dried yeast.

Dr. Goldenberger also made important contributions in connection with the cause and treatment of yellow fever, dangue fever and typhoid fever. His determination and courage were praised by Dr. McCoy, who pointed out that Dr. Goldberger had contracted three other severe illnesses from diseases he was studying at various times typhus fever, yellow fever and dangue or bone breaking fever.

In a formal statement issued by public health officials, it was declared that “certainly no more valuable public health research has been conducted in any country within a generation than Dr. Goldberger’s studies in pellagra, a disease which had existed and been recognized in the Old World for a hundred years and was almost immediately after its discovery in the New World attacked and the solution for its prevention determined.”

Since 1914 Dr. Goldberger had been in charge of pellagra investigations by the Public Health Service, which he entered as a young man.

Dr. Joseph Goldberger was born in Austria-Hungary on July 16, 1874. His parents brought him to America when he was 7 and he became a citizen through his father’s naturalization five years later, He was educated in the public schools of Perth Amboy, N. J., and at City College, New York. He entered Bellevue Hospital, receiving his M.D. in 1895. From 1897 to 1899 he practiced medicine in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., but then left private practice to enter the United States Public Health Service as an assistant surgeon in 1899. At various times he was stationed in the Philippines, Mexico, Porto Rico and Ellis Island. Since 1905 he was attached to the hygienic laboratories in Washington.

In 1914 he began the work which made him nationally known. Placed in charge of field investigations of pellagra, Dr. Goldberger discovered the cause of the disease was a lack of a balanced diet and its cure could be accomplished by introducing fresh vegetables, milk and fresh meat into the daily menu. During the Mississippi River flood last year the Red Cross distributed several carloads of yeast cakes, which Dr. Goldberger had found contained the vitamin P. P., and an epidemic of pellagra was prevented.

Dr. Goldberger was a fellow of the American Medical Association, the American Public Health Association and the Association of American Pathologists and Bacteriologists.

Rabbi Abraham Simon will conduct funeral services. In accordance with a long expressed wish of the deceased, his body will be cremated and his ashes cast to the winds on the Potomac River, without any formal ceremony. This wish was written in his will made twenty-two years ago. The late Dr. Goldberger is survived by his widow, three sons and a daughter.

In a chapter entitled “The Soft-spoken Desperado,” Paul de Kruif in his book “Hunger Fighters,” outlines the work done for science and the (Continued on Page 4)

tracking down of the canse of pellagra by Dr. Joseph Goldberger.

“When Goldberger was six, and on his way over from Central Europe to the East Side of New York, pellagra had never been heard of in Dixie. What with doctors who were not up-to-date, what with folks who were thousands of them too poor to call in even a cheap doctor, this ill of the red rash wasn’t definitely known there, though it had been killing off poor peasants in France and Spain for better than two hundred years. Goldberger’s father wore a long orthodox beard; his boy Joseph grew up on the swarming sidewalks where the song is “East Side, West Side.” The whole family from the grocer father down were hard-working after the manner of immigrant Jews. And the patriarch Joseph’s brothers, and Joseph himself, all pitched in to put this gangly-legged boy through school and into City College. It was young Goldberger’s dream to be a mining engineer. Doctor? They were mainly sooth-sayers, bank-shooters this was the youthful opinion of Joseph Goldberger.

“Meanwhile the physicians of Europe were filling ten-pound books with theories about pellagra this plague of the sore month and the farming skin. Complicated cures and medicines were everywhere recommended, though here and there you might find obscure family doctors, in the Landes of France or in the mountains of Spain who said “Feed a pellaguin well and he’ll do well.” But these were after all only plain practicing doctors and the cause of pellagra lay deeper than that asserted the scientists of the famous schools. They filled scientific periodicals full of forbidding words, with arguments that this fatal disease might be due to the bites of buffalo gnats, or to some still unknown microbe or to the eating of spoiled corn or to eating any old kind of corn exclusively. And the poor folks went on dying.

“By the chance of having an enthusiastic friend, Joe Goldberger was converted to the study of doctoring one of his East Side boy friends deviled him into attending a Lecture by Doctor Austin Flint the younger. That day Goldberger sat, with a new look in his eyes, listening to Flint tell his youngsters about the human heart show them the machinery of the endless pumping toil of that organ by means of a live beating heart of what unfortunate animal remains unknown. Eight years, and this Joe, instead of mining gold romantically was an unknown cog in the machine of the United States Public Health and Marine Hospital Services, along with the pompadour-haired George McCoy, along with Edward Francis who proved how dangerous it may be to get your hands into the insides of a sick rabbit. And down South the plague of Pellagra though in doubtless had been killing people there for years was suddenly discovered, scientifically.

“In 1914 Joseph Goldberger got orders from the red brick laboratory on the hill over the Potomac in Washington to take the train down south to be in charge of pellagra investigations.

Surely there’s no denying that Goldberger was something of a shark at certain diseases that raged in the subtropics. He’d come within an ace of dying of the typhus, while he was showing how that plague may be given to monkeys by the bites of Rice that have feasted on Mexicans who were doomed. He was an excellent bacteriologist, and well I remember him, back in 1914, eager, thin-faced and with slightly curling hair, talking diphtheria to the formidable F. G. Nory-nestor of American microbe hunters. It may he said, though, that Goldberger’s skill at microbe bruiting and his fire for it, might have easily steered him off the track of finding out anything whatever of this red death, pellagra.

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