Casimir Funk

Casimir Funk

[foongk, fuhngk]
Funk, Casimir, 1884-1967, American biochemist, b. Poland, Ph.D. Univ. of Bern, 1904. He first came to the United States in 1915 and was naturalized in 1920. Credited with the discovery of vitamins, Funk stirred public interest with his paper (1912) on vitamin-deficiency diseases. He coined the term vitamine and later postulated the existence of four such materials (B1, B2, C, D), which he stated were necessary for normal health and for the prevention of deficiency diseases. Funk contributed to knowledge of the hormones of the pituitary gland and the sex glands and emphasized the importance of the balance between hormones and vitamins. He is the author of Vitamines (tr. 1922).

See biography by B. Harrow (1955).

Kazimierz Funk (February 23, 1884January 19, 1967), commonly anglicized as Casimir Funk, was a Polish biochemist, generally credited with the first formulation of the concept of Vitamins in 1912 , which he called vital amines or vitamines.


Born in 1884 in Warsaw, the son of a prominent dermatologist, he studied in Berlin and Switzerland, where he gained his doctorate in organic chemistry at the university of Bern in 1904. He worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, then in Berlin, and later at the Lister Institute in London. In 1915 he moved to America where he became a naturalized citizen in 1920. He returned to his native Poland in 1923. In the years of 1923-1928 he was the head of the Biochemistry Department of the National Hygiene Institute in Warsaw, where he worked on the isolation of insulin. He also investigated the impact of the B1 vitamin on the carbohydrates metabolism. In 1928 he moved on to Paris where he started his own research institution, the Casa Biochemica. At this time he married his wife, Alix, with whom he had 2 children, Ian, and Dorian.

After the outbreak of World War II he finally moved permanently to the USA in 1939. In 1940 he started the Funk Foundation for Medical Research in America.

He died in Albany, New York in 1967 at the age of 82.

Contribution to science

After reading an article by the Dutchman Christiaan Eijkman that indicated people eating brown rice were less vulnerable to beri-beri than those who ate only the fully milled product, he tried to isolate the substance responsible and he succeeded around 1912. Because that substance contained an amine group, he called it vitamine (vitamin). It was later to be known as vitamin B1 (Thiamine). He put forward the hypothesis that other diseases, like rickets, pellagra, sprue and scurvy could also be cured by vitamins. The "e" at the end of vitamine was later removed when it was realised that vitamins need not be nitrogen containing amines.

He later postulated the existence of other essential nutrients, which became known as B1, B2, C, and D. In 1936 he determined the molecular structure of thiamin, though he was not the first to isolate it. He was the first to isolate nicotinic acid (also called niacin or vitamin B3).

Funk also conducted research into hormones, diabetes, ulcers, and the biochemistry of cancer.

The Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America (PIASA) annually honors Polish-American scientists with the Casimir Funk Natural Sciences Award. Past winners include Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann, Alexander Wolszczan, Hilary Koprowski, Peter T. Wolczanski, Waclaw Szybalski and Benoit Mandelbrot.


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