Jean Dausset


Jean Dausset

His mother originated from Lorraine, his father from the Pyrénées, two French provinces very distant from one another and with vast cultural differences. His parents met in Paris. During the First World War, his father, a doctor and captain in the army, sent Jean Dausset’s mother and the first three children to Toulouse. It was there that Jean Dausset was born, on 19th October 1916, and this region has held a strong attachment for him ever since.

After the war, his father worked as a physiotherapist and radiologist, dividing his time between Paris and the spa towns. Jean Dausset spent his early childhood in Biarritz, until the age of secondary school. Then, when he was 11 years old, his family came to settle permanently in Paris. He pursued his secondary studies at the Lycée Michelet and obtained his baccalaureate in mathematics.

His choice of career was almost dictated by that of his father, Henri Dausset, who pioneered Rheumatology in France. His medical studies progressed without incident until the advent of the Second World War, when they were interrupted. He was mobilized in 1939 and returned from the French Campaign in 1940 to a Paris occupied by the Germany Army. He began to devote his time ardently to the preparation of a competitive examination for the title of Intern of the Paris Hospitals. Upon receiving this title, he immediately left to join the fighting forces in North Africa. During the Tunisian Campaign, he performed blood transfusions in the army. This was his first introduction to immunohaematology.

While training in Algiers, he performed his first laboratory experiments and carried out his first scientific study on blood platelets.

On his return in 1944, to a liberated Paris, he was given the responsibility for collection of blood samples in the Paris area, working from the Regional Blood Transfusion Centre at Hôpital Saint-Antoine.

As soon as the war was over, he undertook his first real research study, in collaboration with Professor Marcel Bessis. Professor Bessis had just developed exchange-transfusion in new-born babies and adults. It is impossible to say how much time he spent treating, with this method, women who had become anuric following abortion manoeuvres resulting in septicaemia due to Clostridium perfringens – this was his first contact with kidney failure!

His clinical years oriented towards haematology and pediatrics, with a constant attraction to the laboratory. In 1948, he was sent, as a French trainee, to the Children’s Hospital in Boston (Professors L. K Diamond and Sydney Farber) where he worked in one of the Harvard Medical School laboratories.

On his return to France, he took up work again at the regional Blood Transfusion Centre, where he immediately became interested in the new immuno-haematology techniques for red blood cells. He decided to transpose these techniques to white blood cells and platelets.

The principal observation of leuco-agglutination and thrombo-agglutination was made in 1952. Since that time, he has retained a constant interest in the immunogenetics of blood cells.

In 1958, while Head of the Immuno-haematology Laboratory at the National Blood Transfusion Centre, he described the first leucocyte antigen, MAC, which has become known as HLA-A2.

Preoccupied with the state of medical research in France, he undertook with Professor Robert Debré, to institute radical reforms in the hospital and university structures. This work as Advisor to the Cabinet of the National Ministry of Education, spanned three consecutive years and culminated in the introduction of a law which established full-time employment in French hospitals, introducing to the hospitals professors of basic sciences, who were given hospital responsibilities. This reform permitted a soar in French biology and brought a new lease of life to French medical research.

Despite the administrative struggles which ensued during this period, he never abandoned his laboratory work. In 1958, he was named Assistant Professor of Haematology at the Faculty of Medicine in Paris, then Professor of Haematology in 1963 and was appointed Head of the Immunology Department at Hôpital Saint-Louis. Again, he devoted his time entirely to research and, in 1965, described the first tissue group system (Hu-1, later named HLA).

Thanks to the admirable volunteer blood donors, skin donors and skin recipients, grafted under the care of Professor F. T. Rapaport, correlations were established between graft survival and tissue incompatibility.

He participated in the creation of the Research Institute in Blood Diseases, directed by Professor Jean Bernard, and was Assistant Director there until 1968. One of the departments under his direction was the Research Unit on Immunogenetics of Human Transplantation, an INSERM (National Institute of Health and Medical Research) unit of which he has been director since 1968.

In 1977, the Collège de France called him to the Chair of Experimental Medicine, a position held by Claude Bernard from 1958 to 1978, but his research laboratory remained at Hôpital Saint-Louis.

In 1963, he married Rose Mayoral from Madrid who gave him two children, Henri and Irène.

In addition to his scientific interests, he has only two passions in life: his family and modern plastic art.

Professor Honoris Causa
University of Brussels
University of Geneva
University of Liège
Membership of Academies
Honorary foreign member of the Belgian Royal Academy of Medicine
Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France
Académie de Médecine (Paris)
Hon. Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences (Boston)
Hon. Member, Yugoslavian Academy of Arts and Sciences (Zagreb)
Grand Prix des Sciences Chimiques et Naturelles (Académie des Sciences)
Médaille d’Argent du Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique
Grand Prix Scientifique de la Ville de Paris
Prix Cognac-Jay (Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France)
Stratton Lecture Award (U.S.A.)
Landsteiner Award AABB, San Francisco (U.S.A.)
Gairdner Foundation Prize (Canada)
Koch Foundation Prize (Germany)
Wolf Foundation Prize (Israel)

From Nobel Lectures, Physiology or Medicine 1971-1980, Editor Jan Lindsten, World Scientific Publishing Co., Singapore, 1992

This autobiography/biography was written at the time of the award and first published in the book series Les Prix Nobel. It was later edited and republished in Nobel Lectures. To cite this document, always state the source as shown above.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 1980

Addendum, May 2005

Thanks to the Nobel Prize and the French Television, Jean Dausset received in 1984 for his laboratory a huge inheritance. With this unexpected gift, he created, with the collaboration of the Professors Howard Cann and Daniel Cohen, the Human Polymorphism Study Center (CEPH), which soon after became Foundation Jean Dausset-CEPH.

Numerous collaborators working on the same large families, as the ones collected by Prof. Jean Dausset for his studies on the HLA system, permitted to add numerous markers and thus to give the possibility to publish the first genetic map and, later on, the first physical map. The families of the Foundation Jean Dausset-CEPH are still today, in 2005, the families reference for the international scientific community.

On top of that, an exhaustive study of the worldwide populations has already given important publications : the search continues. Besides this, fratries of people over 95 years old and a bank of centenarians is an inestimable resource for the Foundation Jean Dausset-CEPH.

With his collaborator, Prof. Edgardo Carosella, Jean Dausset has always been interested in an atypical molecule of the HLA system, named the HLA-G, molecule of tolerance, unlikely to the other HLA molecules. Jean Dausset participated in the demonstration that HLA-G protected the incompatible foetus against the active cellules of the mother, resolving this way the millennium mystery of keeping the foetus into his mother.

Jean Dausset is still, in 2005, Chairman of the France Bone Marrow Grafts (France Greffe de Moelle). This institute searches for, among the 9 millions volunteers donators of bone marrow worldwide, the compatible donator, or, if possible, the identical one, with the patient.

At least, Jean Dausset took an active part of the huge problem of Humanity. He was, during nearly 20 years, Chairman of the Universal Movement of the Scientific Responsibility (MURS). He was also the Chairman of the Academy of Water.

To end with, Jean Dausset has written a book retracing his life. This book, entitled « Clein d’oeil a la Vie » published at Odile Jacob Editions, in Paris in 1998, was republished under the title « Sceau de l’Individualite ».

Jean Dausset died on 6 June, 2009.

Copyright © The Nobel Foundation 2005

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