Oroya fever

Hideyo Noguchi

[nuh-goo-chee; Japn. naw-goo-chee]
, also known as , was a prominent Japanese bacteriologist who discovered the agent of syphilis in 1911.

Early life

Noguchi Hideyo was born in Inawashiro, Fukushima prefecture in 1876. When he was three and a half years old he fell down into a fireplace and suffered a burn injury on his left hand. There was no doctor in the small village, but one of the men examined the boy. "The fingers of the left hand are mostly gone," he said, "and the left arm and the left foot and the right hand are burned; I know not how badly."

In 1883 he entered Mitsuwa elementary school. Thanks to generous contributions from his teacher Kobayashi and his friends, he was able to receive surgery on his badly burned left hand. He recovered about 70% mobility and functionality in his left hand through the operation.

Noguchi decided to become a doctor to help those in need. He apprenticed himself to , the same doctor who had performed the surgery on his hand. He passed the examinations to practice medicine when he was twenty years old in 1897. He showed signs of great talent and was supported in his studies by Dr. Morinosuke Chiwaki. In 1898, he changed his first name to Hideyo after reading a fictional novel about a doctor who had the same name - Seisaku - as him. The doctor in the novel was intelligent like Noguchi, but became lazy and ruined his life.

Career

In 1900 Noguchi moved to the United States, where he obtained a job as a research assistant with Dr. Simon Flexner at the University of Pennsylvania and later at the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research. He thrived in this environment. At this time his work concerned poisonous snakes. In part, his move was motivated by difficulties in obtaining a medical position in Japan, as prospective employers were concerned about the impact the hand deformity would have on potential patients. In a research setting, this handicap became a non-issue. He and his peers learned from their work and from each other. In this period, a fellow research assistant in Flexner's lab was Frenchman Alexis Carrel, who would go on to win a Nobel Prize in 1912; and Noguchi's work would later attract the Prize committee's scrutiny. The Nobel Foundation archives have been only recently opened for public inspection; and what was once only speculation is now confirmed. He was nominated in 1913, 1914, 1915, 1920, 1921, 1924, 1925, 1926, and 1927.

While working at the Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research in 1913, he demonstrated the presence of Treponema pallidum (syphilitic spirochete) in the brain of a progressive paralysis patient, proving that the spirochete was the cause of the disease. Dr. Noguchi's name is remembered in the binomial attached to another spirochete, Leptospira noguchii.

In 1918, Noguchi traveled extensively in Central America and South America to do research for a vaccine for yellow fever, and to research Oroya fever, poliomyelitis and trachoma. While in Ecuador, he received a commission as a colonel in the Ecuadoran Army.

In 1928, Noguchi traveled to Africa to confirm his findings. The purpose of this field work was to test the hypothesis that yellow fever was caused by spirochaete bacteria instead of a virus. While working in Accra, Gold Coast (modern-day Ghana) he was struck down by the yellow fever virus, his last words being "I don't understand."

Selected works

Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution. [OCLC 2377892]

Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution. [OCLC 14796920]

Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott. [OCLC 3201239]

New York: P. B. Hoeber. [OCLC 14783533]

Honors during Noguchi's lifetime

Noguchi was honored with both Japanese and foreign decorations. He received honorary degrees from a number of universities.

He was discretely self-effacing in his public life, and he often referred to himself with naive objectiveness, as "funny Noguchi;" but those who knew him well reported that he "gloated in honors." When Noguchi was awarded an honorary doctorate at Yale, William Lyon Phelps observed that the Kings of Spain, Denmark and Sweden had conferred awards, but "perhaps he appreciates even more than royal honors the admiration and the gratitude of the people."

Posthumous honors

In 1928, the Japanese government awarded Noguchi the Order of the Rising Sun second class.

In 1979, the Noguchi Memorial Institute of Medical Research (NMIMR) was founded with funds donated by the Japanese government. The Institute is located at the University of Ghana in Legon, a suburb north of Accra. After his death, Noguchi's body was returned to the United States; but the mere existence of the NMIMR is arguably a more fitting memorial than the modest marker in New York City's Woodlawn Cemetery.

Dr. Noguchi's portrait has been printed on Japanese 1000 yen banknotes since 2004. In addition, the house where he was born and brought up is preserved and is part of a museum to his life and its achievements.

Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize

The Japanese Government established the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize in July 2006 as a new international medical research and services award to mark the official visit to by Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi to Africa in May 2006 and the 80th anniversary of Dr. Noguchi’s death. The Prize aims to honor individuals with outstanding achievements in combating various infectious diseases in Africa or in establishing innovative medical service systems. The presentation ceremony and laureate lectures coincided with the Fourth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD)in late April 2008. This year's conference venue was moved from Tokyo to Yokohama as another way of honoring the man after whom the prize was named. In 1899, Dr. Noguchi worked at the Yokohama Port Quarantine Office as an assistant quarantine doctor.

The first awards of this international prize -- consisting of a citation, a medal and an honorarium of 100 million yen (US$843,668) are only intended to be the first in a continuing series; and subsequently the Prize is expected to be awarded every five years. The prize as been made possible through a combination of government funding and private donations.

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