Christian Anfinsen (1980) - Studies on the Structure and Properties of Human Interferon

Christian Anfinsen (1980)

Studies on the Structure and Properties of Human Interferon

Christian Anfinsen (1980)

Studies on the Structure and Properties of Human Interferon

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In 1980, the biochemist Christian Anfinsen participated for the first time in a Lindau meeting. Listening to his introduction, one can hear that he liked the lecturing situation: A Nobel Laureate and a select audience of students and young researchers. As Anfinsen puts it, the main function could be to make it clear that people who win the Nobel Prize are not really different from other people (except, in his view, certain exceptions such as Albert Schweitzer, Linus Pauling and a few others!). Many Nobel Laureates coming to Lindau for the first time repeat (more or less) their Nobel lectures that, according to the Statutes of the Nobel Foundation, should be “on a subject relevant to the work for which the prize has been awarded”. But Anfinsen choose to talk on his work on the human interferon and what medical applications it could have. The idea was that interferon could be important in curing viral diseases (maybe even cancer) and the problem was to get enough interferon to be able to make large-scale medical studies. Anfinsen discusses two approaches, first the traditional one of a biochemist (with a lot of money): Use 1000 litres of human white blood cells, infect them with a virus, use biochemistry to produce about 100 micrograms of interferon (which only amounts to a limited amount of doses for a patient). The second approach discussed was the modern one: Produce the interferon protein molecule using genetic engineering, since it is probably easier to find the structure of the interferon gene than that of the protein it produces. He may not have known it, but at the same time as Anfinsen gave his talk, the Nobel Committee for Chemistry discussed the 1980 Nobel Prize. In the early autumn it was decided that one of the fathers of genetic engineering, Paul Berg, should receive one of the two prizes. Today his technique is in fact, as Anfinsen discussed, used to produce several kinds of interferon for medical purposes!Anders Bárány

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