Saturday, October 9, 2021

Herbert Gasser – 1944 Nobel Prize Winner for Physiology or Medicine

Herbert Spencer Gasser (July 5, 1888 – May 11, 1963) was born in Platteville, Wisconsin, the son of Herman Gasser end Jane Elisabeth Griswold. His father, Herman, was an immigrant from the Tyrol, who, after working as a pharmacist, studied medicine and became a practicing physician. His mother, Jane Elizabeth Griswold Gasser, came from a family of early Connecticut settlers.

After attending the State Normal School he went on to the University of Wisconsin, where he graduated A.B. in 1910 and A.M. in 1911. At Wisconsin he took some medical school courses. Here he studied physiology under Dr. Erlanger, with whom he was later to have such a fruitful collaboration.

Gasser remained at the university as an assistant in biochemistry, meanwhile completing his preclinical subjects, and then was appointed an instructor in physiology.

He finished his medical course at Johns Hopkins, taking his M.D. in 1915 and working in his spare time with Dr W. H. Howell, the professor of physiology: then, after a year at the University of Wisconsin, he rejoined Dr Erlanger, who had gone to St Louis as head of the Department of Physiology at Washington University. From 1917 to 1919, during World War I, Gasser and Erlanger published 11 papers on traumatic shock.

In 1920, one of Gasser’s former classmates at Johns Hopkins, H. Sidney Newcomer, developed a three-stage amplifier that would amplify nerve impulses 100 000-fold. A year later, Gasser and Erlanger constructed a cathode-ray oscilloscope that could record the nerve impulse – a remarkable technical breakthrough. By 1922 Gasser and Erlanger used this instrument to study the details of nerve transmission.

In 1931 Dr. Gasser was appointed Professor of Physiology and Head of the Medical Department at Cornell University, New York City. From 1935 to 1953 he was Director of the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, being later a member emeritus of the Institute.

Dr. Gasser was a co-author of the book Electrical Signs of Nervous Activity (1937). He has also published, alone or with his collaborators, many scientific papers on neurophysical topics, being appointed an Editor of The Journal of Experimental Medicine in 1936.

It was announced from Stockholm that after the interval of three years the Nobel Prizes were to be awarded again and that the prize for Medicine and Physiology for 1943 was to be given to Joseph Erlanger and Herbert Spencer Gasser ‘for their discoveries concerning the functional differentiations of particular nerve fibres’.
Herbert Gasser – 1944 Nobel Prize Winner for Physiology or Medicine

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