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  Ashes on the Potomac

Dr. Joseph Goldberger never discovered precisely what was missing from the diets of pellagrins. The year following the Great Flood, Dr. Joseph Goldberger fell gravely ill of hypernephroma, a rare form of cancer. He died on January 17, 1929. His ashes were sprinkled over the Potomac River as a rabbi chanted Kaddish.

During the next decade, Conrad A.Elevjhem learned that a deficiency of nicotinic acid, better known as B vitamin niacin, resulted in canine black tongue disease. In studies conducted in Alabama and Cincinnati, Dr. Tom Spies found that nicotinic acid cured human pellagrins as well. Tulane University scientists discovered that the amino acid tryptophan was a precursor to niacin. When tryptophan was added to commercial foods such as bread to "fortify" them, it prevented the scourge of the South. Today, pellagra has been all but banished, except for infrequent occurrences during times of famine and displacement.

Heroes are few in science as in every field. However, the selfless devotion of Dr. Joseph Goldberger to relieving the suffering of those whose plague was born of poverty might well qualify him for the garland. His portrait hangs in the Director's Building at the National Institutes of Health as an inspiration to young investigators and a reminder that medical science is not isolated from the social dimensions of the human condition.

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Dr. Joseph Goldberger & Sons
Dr. Goldberger & Sons
Photo: A merchant marine vessel named in honor of Dr. Joseph Goldberger
Dr. Goldbeger Honored
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