Bernardo Alberto Houssay Biography

Physiologist, Doctor, Scientist (1887–1971)
Bernardo Alberto Houssay was an Argentinian doctor whose research on the role of pituitary hormones regulating blood sugar won him a Nobel Prize.


Born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, on April 10, 1887, Bernardo Alberto Houssay was a doctor by the age of 23. Following his education, he founded an institute of physiology, but would be dismissed by President Juan Perón. His research on the role of pituitary hormones in the regulation of blood sugar won him a Nobel Prize in 1947.

Early Life and Education

Nobel Prize-winning scientist Bernardo Alberto Houssay was born on April 10, 1887, in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The son of a lawyer, Houssay excelled in his studies at an early age. He went to the University of Buenos Aires at the age of 14, and graduated from the university's pharmacy school three years later. He worked as a pharmacist for a time while he went to medical school. Houssay received his M.D. degree at the age of 23.

While at medical school, Houssay developed an interest in endocrinology. He started doing research on the endocrine glands and the hormones they secrete, especially the pituitary gland. For his doctoral thesis, Houssay wrote "Studies of the Physiological Action of the Pituitary Extracts." He received a special award for his research.

Leading Educator and Researcher

Houssay became a professor at the school of veterinary medicine at the University of Buenos Aires around 1910. A few years later, he was chosen to run an experimental lab at the National Department of Hygiene. Houssay returned to the medical school as a professor of physiology in 1919. Around this time, he founded the Institute of Physiology, a new research center at the university. Houssay had up to 250 graduate students working at the institute during his tenure there.

Political changes in his native Argentina had an impact on his career. After Juan Perón became president in 1943, he fired roughly 150 professors and other academics from their positions for political reasons. Houssay did not let his dismissal slow his research, however. He founded the Institute of Biology and Experimental Medicine in 1944.

Nobel Prize Winner

In 1947, Houssay won the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine "for his discovery of the part played by the hormone of the anterior pituitary lobe in the metabolism of sugar," according to the Nobel Prize website. He had spent years investigating the role of pituitary hormones in regulating blood sugar, making advances in the understanding of diabetes. Houssay shared the prize with Carl and Gerty Cori—their research also explored how the human body metabolizes sugar.

After winning the Nobel Prize, Houssay spent some time in the United States. He was appointed the Hitchcock Professor of Physiology at the University of California. Houssay shared his advanced knowledge of his field in the 1950 book Physiologie Humaine. The work proved to be so successful that it was translated into English and sold around the world.

Houssay died at the age of 84 on September 21, 1971, in Buenos Aires. He was survived by his three sons. His wife and fellow scientist, Maria Catan, had passed away a decade earlier.

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