George Richards Minot Biography (1885-1950)

hematologist, physician

George Richards Minot was born on December 2, 1885, in Boston, Massachusetts,the eldest of three sons of a prominent Boston family. George's father was aphysician, and several other men on both sides of the family had been distinguished medical practitioners as well. Minot graduated from Harvard College in 1908, and despite an apparent lack of ambition, entered Harvard medical school thereafter and did well in his courses. It was in medical school that hebecame interested in the study of human blood, and after he received his 1912 he immediately began his internship at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. In 1914 he became an assistant at the Johns Hopkins University medical school in Baltimore. There he continued his studies of blood in the laboratory and did some of the research that led to Dr. William H. Howell'sdiscovery of the anticoagulant drug heparin.

In 1915 Minot began to focus his attention on various forms of anemia, but especially on pernicious anemia, a disease for which there was then no known cure and which was almost always fatal to the patient. In his prolongedstudy of blood smears under the microscope, Minot made the important discovery that the number of reticulocytes (young red blood cells) found in a sampleprovided a good index of the activity of the bone marrow, the part of the body which produces all red blood cells. He also began to suspect that the causeof pernicious anemia was some malfunction in the bone marrow, and that thisin turn was somehow related to the diet of the patient. Around 1917 he turnedhis attention to cancer research and treatment. He did significant researchon several forms of leukemia, a cancerous disease of the blood. In 1918 he became an assistant professor at the Harvard Medical School. In 1921 Minot wasdiagnosed with diabetes. The discovery of insulin in 1922 led to his rapid improvement and the resumption of his research.

In 1925 Minot returned to the problem of the treatment of pernicious anemia.He was partly inspired by reading reports of experiments by Dr. George Hoyt Whipple of Rochester, who had bled dogs to make them anemic and then restoredtheir health by feeding them a diet rich in red meat, especially liver. Minotspeculated that feeding liver to human patients with pernicious anemia mighthave a beneficial effect. Minot enlisted a young colleague, Dr. William P. Murphy, to assist him in the experiment, and together they began feeding up tohalf a pound of liver per day to as many patients with pernicious anemia asthey could persuade to eat it. This simple treatment produced dramatic results: nearly all the patients showed striking improvement, many within only twoweeks or so. More important, they continued to improve with further liver feeding rather than suffering relapses following temporary remission of symptoms, as victims of pernicious anemia often did.

In 1926 Minot and Murphy presented a report on the successful treatment of forty-five patients suffering from pernicious anemia. A year later, they reported favorable results in the treatment of 105 patients. The next step was to develop an extract of pure liver which would be less bulky and more palatableto the patient. Minot persuaded Dr. Edward J. Cohn, a professor of physical chemistry at the Harvard medical school, to work on this problem, and Cohn soon isolated what was called Fraction G from pure liver. The Eli Lilly Companythen began to manufacture the substance as a commercial product. In 1929 Minot and others discovered that much smaller dosages of the extract, given intravenously, had the same effect as large doses taken by mouth. The discovery ofa cure for pernicious anemia marked the culmination of Minot's career as a scientific researcher. He was appointed professor of medicine at the Harvard medical school and director of the Thorndike Memorial Laboratory at Boston City Hospital in 1928. Minot remained active as an administrator until 1947, when he suffered a severe stroke. He died three years later.

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