- Eijkman , Christiaan
- (1858–1930) Dutch physicianEijkman was born at Nijkerk in the Netherlands and qualified as a physician from the University of Amsterdam in 1883. He served as an army medical officer in the Dutch East Indies from 1883 to 1885, when he was forced to return to the Netherlands to recuperate from a severe attack of malaria. In 1886 he returned to the East Indies as a member of an official government committee to investigate beriberi. After the completion of the committee's work, Eijkman remained in Batavia (now Djakarta) as director of a newly established bacteriological laboratory. In 1896 he took up the post of professor of public health at the University of Utrecht.Eijkman was responsible for the first real understanding of the nature and possible cure of beriberi. For this work he shared the 1929 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine with Frederick Gowland Hopkins. Beriberi is a disorder caused by dietary deficiency, producing fatal lesions in the nervous and cardiovascular systems. Physicians of the late 19th century, however, were not trained to recognize its cause: with the clear success of the germ theory recently demonstrated by Robert Koch it was difficult to realize that symptoms could be produced by the absence of something rather than by the more obvious presence of a visible pathogen.Eijkman's discovery was prompted by the outbreak of a disease very similar to human beriberi among the laboratory chickens. Despite the most thorough search no causative microorganisms could be identified, and then, for no obvious reason, the disease disappeared.On investigation, Eijkman discovered that the symptoms of the disease had developed during a period of five months in which the chickens' diet was changed to hulled and polished rice. With a return to their normal diet of commercial chicken feed the symptoms disappeared. Eijkman subsequently found that he could induce the disease with a diet of hulled and polished rice and cure it with one of whole rice. However, he failed to conclude that beriberi was a deficiency disease. He argued that the endosperm of the rice produced a toxin that was neutralized by the outer hull: by eating polished rice the toxin would be released in its unneutralized form.Thus although Eijkman had clearly demonstrated how to cure and prevent beriberi it was left to Hopkins to identify its cause as a vitamin deficiency. It was not until the early 1930s that Robert Williams identified the vitamin as vitamin B1 (thiamine).
Scientists. Academic. 2011.