Dorothy Andersen Biography (1901-1963)
- physician, pathologist
Dorothy Andersen was the first medical researcher to recognize the disorder known as cystic fibrosis. She devoted much of her life to the further study ofthis disease, as well as to the study of congenital defects of the heart. During World War II, Anderson was asked to develop a training program in cardiac embryology and anatomy for surgeons learning techniques of open-heart surgery.
Dorothy Hansine Andersen was born on May 15, 1901, in Asheville, North Carolina. She was the only child of Hans Peter Andersen and the former Mary LouiseMason. Hans Peter Andersen was a native of Denmark and was employed by the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) in Asheville. Andersen was forced to take responsibility for her own upbringing early in life. Her father died whenshe was thirteen years old, leaving behind an invalid wife dependent on herdaughter's care. They moved to Saint Johnsbury, Vermont, where Mary Andersendied in 1920.
Andersen put herself through Saint Johnsbury Academy and Mount Holyoke College before enrolling in the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, from which she received her M.D. in 1926; while still a medical student, Andersen published two scientific papers dealing with the reproductive system of the female pig inthe prestigious journal Contributions to Embryology. After graduatingfrom Johns Hopkins, Andersen accepted a one-year position teaching anatomy at the Rochester School of Medicine. She then did her internship in surgery atthe Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester, New York. For medical students aninternship is normally followed by a residency, which ultimately leads to certification as a physician. However, Andersen was unable to find a hospital that would allow her to do a residency in surgery or to work as a pathologistbecause she was a woman.
Denied the opportunity to have a medical practice, Andersen turned instead tomedical research. She took a job as research assistant in pathology at Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons that allowed her to begina doctoral program in endocrinology, the study of glands. She completed thecourse in 1935 and was granted the degree of doctor of medical science by Columbia University. From 1930 to 1935 Andersen also served as an instructor inpathology at the Columbia Medical School. Andersen later accepted an appointment as a pathologist at Babies Hospital of the Columbia-Presbyterian MedicalCenter in New York City, where she stayed for more than twenty years, eventually becoming chief of pathology in 1952. By 1958 she had become a full professor at the College of Physicians and Surgeons.
Andersen's research interests fell into two major categories. The first of these involved a long and careful study of congenital (existing from birth) heart problems based on the examination of infants who had died of cardiac conditions. She began that study during her first year at Babies Hospital and wasstill publishing her findings on the subject in the late 1950s. Andersen's experience with cardiac problems was put to use during World War II when she was asked to teach courses for physicians who wanted to learn how to conduct open-heart surgery.
Her second area of research, and the one for which Andersen is probably bestknown, evolved out of her discovery in 1935 of cystic fibrosis. That discovery came about during the postmortem examination (autopsy) of a child who had supposedly died of celiac disease, a nutritional disorder. Eventually she realized that she had found a disease that had never been described in the medical literature, to which she gave the name cystic fibrosis. Cystic fibrosis isa congenital disease of the mucous glands and pancreatic enzymes that resultsin abnormal digestion and difficulty in breathing; it is believed to affectapproximately one in fifteen hundred people. Over the next twenty-six years,Andersen was successful in developing diagnostic tests for cystic fibrosis, but she was less successful in her efforts to treat and cure the disease.
Andersen, a heavy smoker, died of lung cancer in New York City on March 3, 1963. Among the honors she received were the Mead Johnson Award for Pediatric Research in 1938, the Borden Award for Research in Nutrition from the AmericanAcademy of Pediatrics in 1948, the Elizabeth Blackwell Citation for Women inMedicine from the New York Infirmary in 1954, a citation for outstanding performance from Mount Holyoke College in 1952, and, posthumously, the distinguished service medal of the Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center.