Jean Dausset, M.D.

Jean Dausset

 Brief Bio

Jean-Baptiste-Gabriel-Joachim Dausset was born in Toulouse, France, on October 19, 1916. His father was a physician and radiologist. Hoping to follow in his father's footsteps, Dausset began his preliminary training in medicine at the University of Paris, but his plans were disrupted when he was drafted into the French army in 1939. After France surrendered to Germany in June 1940, Dausset fled Paris to join the Free French Forces in North Africa. Before leaving, he gave his identification papers to a Jewish colleague at the Pasteur Institute to help him evade Nazi persecution. Dausset's duties during the war included performing blood transfusions. His fascination with the procedure, and with the immune system's reaction to it, led directly to his later work.

After the war, Dausset earned his M.D. from the University of Paris. In 1946, he accepted an appointment as director of laboratories at the National Blood Transfusion Center, a position he held until 1963, when he became chief biologist for the Paris General Hospital System. As an advisor to the Cabinet of the National Ministry of Education during the early 1960s, Dausset helped bring research-enhancing reforms to the French medical education and hospital systems. Beginning in 1958, he also taught immunology and hematology at the University of Paris and became chair of the Department of Immunology there in 1977. Dausset used his Nobel Prize money to start the CEPH (now the Foundation Jean Dausset-CEPH), a genome research center, in 1984. He also served as president of the Universal Movement for Scientific Responsibility during the 1980s and 1990s.

During his speech at the Nobel Banquet in December of 1980, Dausset described his work and its relation to humanity: "Every man is different, every man is unique, which magnifies his dignity. Never on earth has there been, nor will there ever be, two individuals exactly the same except for identical twins. . . . For all humanity the genetic differences are necessary for evolution and survival. Physical differences are priceless treasures. It is the same for moral, intellectual and religious differences. We must not only tolerate them but cultivate them."

Although immunology was Dausset's first passion, modern art ran a close second. For a brief period in the late 1940s, Dausset and his wife, Rosa Lopez, co-owned La Galerie du Dragon, a small art gallery in Paris.

Dausset died on June 6, 2009, in Majorca, Spain, at the age of 92.

 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

1980 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine jointly with Baruj Benacerraf (AAI '57, president 1973–74) and George Snell for their independent discoveries of “genetically determined structures on the cell surface that regulate immunological reactions”

 AAI Service History

Joined: 1974

 Nobel Prize in Science

Jean Dausset was awarded the 1980 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine jointly with Baruj Benacerraf (AAI '57, president 1973–74) and George Snell for their independent discoveries of "genetically determined structures on the cell surface that regulate immunological reactions." Dausset was recognized for his identification of human leukocyte antigens and the genes that code for them.

After Snell discovered histocompatibility antigens in mice and identified the major histocompatibility complex (MHC) that encodes them, Dausset looked for and found the MHC in humans. He called the set of genes the human leukocyte antigen (HLA) group. By identifying the genes that determine HLA type, Dausset created the possibility of matching organ donors and recipients, thereby dramatically decreasing the risk of rejection following transplantation.

The implications of Dausset's discovery reached far beyond the field of transplantation, however. Building upon Dausset's research on the relationship between HLA and diseases, scientists have correlated specific HLA alleles with a number of autoimmune diseases, including rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Type 1 diabetes. Certain HLA alleles have also been connected to infectious diseases, such as HIV/AIDS, and various cancers. Understanding these correlations has allowed more accurate prediction of susceptibility to these diseases based on the presence or absence of specific HLA genes. HLA type has also been used in legal disputes to determine paternity and in anthropological studies to track the genetic heritage and migration patterns of human groups.

When Dausset passed away in 2009, immunologists around the world recalled the significance of his contributions. Anthony S. Fauci (AAI '73) told the New York Times that "Dausset's findings transformed the understanding of the human immune system." Daniel Altmann of the Department of Infectious Disease and Immunity at the Imperial College in London noted, "A key aspect of Dausset's contribution was his insight that one would only unravel the secrets of such a diverse group of genes [the HLA group] by analyzing large numbers of family 'pedigrees.'" It was this realization, according to Altmann, that prompted Dausset to found the Center for the Study of Human Polymorphisms (CEPH) and establish the extensive family databases, which were central to the successful worldwide effort to sequence the human genome.

 Awards and Honors

  • Grand Prix des Sciences Chimiques et Naturelles, 1967
  • Médaille d'Argent du Center National del la Recherche Scientifique, 1967
  • Grand Prix Scientifique de la Ville de Paris, 1968
  • Prix Cognac-Jay de l'Académie des Sciences, 1969
  • Honorary foreign member, Belgian Royal Academy of Medicine, 1969
  • Karl Landsteiner Memorial Award, American Association of Blood Banks, 1970
  • Member, French Academy of Sciences, 1977
  • Member, French Academy of Medicine, 1977
  • Gairdner Foundation Prize, 1977
  • Robert Koch Award, 1978
  • Wolf Prize in Medicine, 1978
  • Honorary foreign member, Yugoslav Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1979
  • Honorary foreign member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 1979
  • Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1980

 Institutional/Biographical Links