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Ludwik Gross Papers 1908-1999
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Biography

Biographical Note

Dr. Ludwik Gross published over 200 scientific papers on cancer and leukemia. His monograph Oncogenic Viruses (Pergamon Press, Oxford and New York), is considered a standard reference book in cancer research laboratories. He also published, in his early years, 2 books in Polish, written for laymen, on Medicine and Medical discoveries. Dr. Gross won an Albert and Mary Lasker Foundation prize in 1974 for his discovery of what became known as the Gross mouse leukemia virus. His work in the 1950s, the Lasker jury said, opened the field of tumor virology in mammals and "laid the foundations for the subsequent discovery by others of cancer-inducing viruses in animals of various species ranging from rodents to primates". Gross continued past retirement as a "Distinguished Physician" with the Veterans Administration Hospital. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr. Gross was born in Krakow, Poland on September 11, 1904. Both his parents were lawyers and his father was a member of the Austro-Hungarian Parliament. He obtained his medical degree at Jagiellonian University in Krakow in 1929. He trained in internal medicine for three years at the St. Lazar General Hospital there. In the 1930s, he worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. He immigrated to the United States in 1940 and worked at the Jewish Hospital and Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, where he developed an interest in cancer research. After serving in the army during World War II, he became chief of cancer research at the Bronx VA Hospital.

Dr. Gross received his M.D. degree in 1929 at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow. After internship and residency at the St. Lazar Hospital in Krakow, he worked, with some interruptions, on experimental cancer immunity at the Pasteur Institute in Paris (1932-1939). In 1940, after the outbreak of the war, he immigrated to the United States where he continued his studies on cancer immunity at the Institute for Medical Research, and at both the Jewish Hospital and the Christ Hospital in Cincinnati, Ohio, until 1943 when he joined the U.S. Army Medical Corps. Towards the end of the war he was sent by the Army as a Captain, to the Veterans Administration Hospital in the Bronx, New York City. There he organized a small cancer research laboratory, while still in service, in 1945. At first, this laboratory consisted of only a single room, but Gross was later able to gradually expand it into a Cancer Research Unit. Gross remained head of this lab for the remainder of his career, well into the 1990s. Dr. Gross also served simultaneously as a consultant (1953-1956) and later as an associate scientist (1957-1960) at the Sloan Kettering Memorial Center in New York City. In 1971 he received an appointment as Chief Cancer Research Professor of Medicine at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, of the City University of New York, which is affiliated with the Bronx Veterans Administration Hospital.

Until 1951, scientists believed that mouse leukemia, and many other leukemias, were genetic diseases. Dr. Gross upset that dogma by showing that a virus caused mouse leukemia and could be passed naturally from generation to generation. Before his discovery, scientists had largely ignored the role of viruses in cancer, even though in 1908 researchers had suggested a viral cause by transmitting leukemia and sarcomas in chickens. Also over the next 30 years, scientists experimented with transmitting a type of kidney cancer prevalent in New England lake frogs to other frogs, as well as transmitting breast cancer in mice via milk from mothers to their offspring.

Long before his discovery, Dr Gross had theorized about a virus called mouse leukemia, but had failed to find it. By chance he heard a lecture by a scientist working on a different virus who said he could show its harmful effects by injecting it into suckling mice, though not by injecting it into older mice. Dr. Gross developed a similar experiment by injecting material from leukemic mice into newborn mice known to be free of leukemia. This experiment showed that the virus was passed naturally through successive generations of mice to cause leukemia. Criticism and hostility initially followed his discovery, but they gradually disappeared as his subsequent laboratory research showed that radiation or chemicals could induce leukemia in mice by activating a dormant virus. Also, other scientists would later develop vaccines against the feline leukemia virus in cats and Marek's disease, a cancer found in chickens. Gross's hypothesis that viruses could cause some human cancers was also later supported, specifically by the discovery of HTLV-1 and HTLV-2. These two retroviruses cause rare cases of leukemia and lymphomas -- the Epstein-Barr virus, which is linked to Burkitt's lymphoma and to cancer of the nose and mouth, and the hepatitis B virus, which can cause liver cancer. Dr. Gross's research also influenced the discovery of the AIDS virus.

Among the several prizes and honors which Gross received are the R.R. de Villiers Foundation (Leukemia Society) Award for Leukemia Research (1953), the Walker Prize of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in London (1961), the Pasteur Silver Medal of the Pasteur Institute in Paris (1962), the WHO United Nations Prize for Cancer Research (1962), the Bertner Foundation Award (1963), the Special Virus Cancer Program Award of the National Cancer Institute (1972), the Albert Lasker Basic Medical Research Award (1974), the Principal 1978 Paul Ehrlich-Ludwig Darmstaeder Prize in Frankfurt, and the Griffuel Prize in Paris (1978). In 1973 Gross was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. In recognition of his scientific accomplishments, he received the French Legion of Honor (1977).

Dr. Gross died of stomach cancer in July of 1999 at the age of 94