Joseph L. Goldstein’s speech at the Nobel Banquet, December 10, 1985
Your Majesty, Your Royal Highnesses, Ladies and Gentlemen,
Michael Brown and I are grateful to the Swedish academic community for bestowing this honor on us. Some may think that we are too young for this award. But let me point out that we work as a team. If our efforts were only additive, our combined age would be 45 plus 44 or 89 years. But our efforts are more than additive: they are synergistic. They have a multiplying effect. Our true collaborative age is 45 times 44 or 1980 years – surely old enough for a Nobel Prize. Our collaboration will continue tonight and we’ll divide our alloted time in half.
Of all the Prizes endowed by Alfred Nobel, only one has an ambiguous name – the Prize for Physiology or Medicine. Nobel believed that physiology was an experimental science like physics and chemistry. On the other hand, medicine was an empirical art that would rarely merit a scientific prize. To the contrary, however, many of the advances in biology during the subsequent 85 years were made by people trained in medicine who were attempting to solve medical problems.
Let me cite a few examples in the field of genetics, surely the greatest triumph of 20th century biology. The classic dictum that genes encode enzymes was enunciated by a physician, Archibald Garrod, who studied a patient with black urine. The discovery that DNA is the stuff of genes can be traced to Oswald Avery, a practitioner who wanted to learn how bacteria cause pneumonia. The discovery that viral genes cause cancer was made by Peyton Rous, a medical pathologist whose imagination was aroused when a chicken breeder brought him a hen with a tumor. In our own modest way, we, too, were stimulated by a human genetic disease – one that causes high blood cholesterol and heart attacks.
What do all of these pioneers have in common? First, they were physicians who were trained in basic science. To them, it was not a question of physiology or medicine. To them, medicine was physiology. Second, they showed technical courage in using the most advanced scientific methods to solve medical problems. Mike will now elaborate on these two attributes.