Liver Diet as a Cure for Pernicious Anemia

Institution:

School of Medicine and Dentistry at the University of Rochester Medical Center

Researchers:

University of Rochester School of Medicine pathologist George Whipple, M.D., (deceased), University of Rochester pathologist Frieda Robscheit-Robbins, Ph.D., (deceased), and Harvard University physicians George Richards Minot, M.D. (1885-1950) and William Parry Murphy, M.D. (deceased)

Impact:

Pernicious anemia, a disease in which not enough red blood cells are present due to a lack of vitamin B12, was a fatal disease around the world up until 1926, when Whipple and his research partners proved that a daily dose of a half a pound of beef liver, or raw liver juice, could control the disease. Chemists later developed a concentrated liver juice, followed by a much more powerful injectable liver extract that reduced the cost of treatment. Whipple, Murphy and Minot shared the Nobel Prize in 1934 for their work, which ultimately led to the discovery and synthesis of vitamin B12 (cobalamin), and officially took pernicious anemia off the list of deadly medical problems.

Timeline:

Whipple and Robscheit-Robbins made the discovery during experiments from 1917 through the early 1920s, in which dogs were bled to make them anemic then fed various foods to see which would make them recover most rapidly. They discovered ingesting large amounts of liver seemed to cure anemia from blood loss, and then tried it as a treatment for pernicious anemia, reporting improvement. Minot and Murphy then worked to isolate the curative property in liver, and in 1926 showed it was contained in raw liver juice. Other scientists discovered Vitamin B12 as the active curative ingredient.