Skip Navigation Bar
National Intitutes of Health
This finding aids platform will be replaced in Fall 2022. Please explore the new platform Beta soft release by visiting

Donald S. Fredrickson Papers 1910-2002 (bulk 1960-1999)
full text File Size: 382 K bytes | Add this to my bookbag



Biographical/Historical Note

Donald S. Fredrickson (1924-2002), a physiologist and science administrator, made signal contributions to American medicine over the course of four decades, first as a laboratory scientist, then as a leader of several prominent medical research institutions. Fredrickson's studies of the connection between lipid metabolism (the processing of lipids, chief among them fats and cholesterol, in the body) and heart disease made him one of the most widely cited physiologists of the 1960s and 1970s. His system of classifying disorders in lipid metabolism was adopted by the World Health Organization as an international standard for identifying increased risks of coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke linked to the consumption of fats and cholesterol. He also discovered two diseases, cholesterol ester storage disease and Tangier Disease, caused by genetic disorders in the storage of cholesterol in the body. As director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the world's foremost biomedical research facility, Fredrickson mediated between scientists and the federal government during contentious, far-ranging debates over the direction of medical research policy, research funding, and the potential dangers of genetic engineering that took place in the second half of the 1970s.

Donald Sharp Fredrickson was born in Cañon City, Colorado, on August 8, 1924. During World War II he enlisted in the army reserves at the University of Colorado before transferring to the Army Specialized Training Program in engineering at the University of Michigan, a subject for which military tests had indicated a special aptitude. After another aptitude test and with the end of the war in sight, Fredrickson settled on medicine as his true calling. He received his bachelor's degree in 1946 and his medical degree in 1949, both from the University of Michigan. He was certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 1957.

While touring Europe by bicycle, Fredrickson met Henriette Priscilla Dorothea Eekhof, a law student at the University of Leyden. They married in her hometown of The Hague in 1950. After one year of separation, Henriette joined her husband in the United States. During the 1950s, she supported the junior scientist and their two sons through an import company for Dutch cigars she founded in their home.

Fredrickson conducted postgraduate research at Harvard University Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital before arriving at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1953. He was one of ten young physicians chosen by NIH Director James Shannon as clinical associates in the National Heart Institute and assigned to the Institute's research laboratories in the newly opened NIH Clinical Center. From an early stage in his professional career, Fredrickson sought to integrate laboratory research with clinical practice, and to place science in the service of treating disease.

After a research career in laboratories devoted to cellular metabolism, physiology, and molecular diseases, he became director of the National Heart Institute (NHI), now known as the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), in 1966, a position he held until 1968. During his term as director the first heart transplant in man was performed by South African heart surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard, with whom Fredrickson arranged a meeting on December 18, 1967, at Chicago's O'Hare airport. The historic meeting was attended by prominent heart surgeons in the United States who soon after replicated Barnard's feat. Fredrickson remained at the National Heart Institute as Director of Intramural Research until 1974.

In late spring of 1974, Dr. Fredrickson left the NIH to become the second President of the Institute of Medicine, a Washington, D.C. health care and medical research policy think tank under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences. He recalled that he was attracted to his new position because "there was a rich mixture of the dialects and ethics operative in the world outside the laboratory walls" that offered "an unparalleled view of the complex field of human health." During his brief tenure at IOM he proved an effective fundraiser, a new role for an official used to administering, not soliciting, research funds.

Almost from the moment Dr. Fredrickson joined the Institute of Medicine, he was drawn once again into the administrative politics of NIH. The directorship of NIH had become vacant for the second time in as many years. Fredrickson received phone calls from federal officials indicating dissension in the upper ranks of NIH, and asking Fredrickson to step into the void of leadership by becoming NIH director. On April 19, 1975, Fredrickson returned to Bethesda as director of NIH. In a conversation with Philip Handler, the President of the National Academy of Sciences, Fredrickson justified his decision by stating that leading NIH was "not a job; it's a cause."

Over the next six years, Fredrickson's administrative and political skills were frequently tested during the most turbulent period in the history of the NIH. Immediately he was thrown into the growing controversy over the environmental hazards and the ethics of recombinant DNA research, cutting-edge genetic experimentation that, critics warned, could produce new and untreatable pathogens and presented an unwarranted human manipulation of the natural order. During the economic and budget crises of the late 1970s, the U.S. Congress considered reducing government funding on which NIH and, through its extramural grant program, most biomedical research in the United States depended. Fredrickson had to counter arguments from members of Congress who sought to curtail NIH funding by arguing that basic research sponsored by NIH did not yield clinical applications and therapies rapidly enough to benefit patients. Not least, Fredrickson had to adjust to the changing priorities of the three U.S. Presidents and five Secretaries of Health, Education, and Welfare (since 1980, Health and Human Services) under whom he served.

Fredrickson's main successes as NIH director lay in devising guidelines for recombinant DNA research that preserved the freedom of scientific inquiry while allaying public fears of genetic manipulation; stabilizing NIH funding at a time of retrenchment; and fostering consensus among clinical and scientific researchers at NIH, groups that often found themselves at odds in their research objectives and struggle for funding. With these controversies alleviated, Fredrickson stepped down as director of NIH in June of 1981.

After two years as Scholar-in-Residence at the National Academy of Sciences, Fredrickson first became vice president, then president, CEO and trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), founded in 1953 by the aviator and industrialist. Fredrickson oversaw the sale of the Institute's sole asset, the Hughes Aircraft Company, for six billion dollars, as well as the Institute's subsequent expansion into the largest source of philanthropic support for biomedical research in the United States, dispensing research grants and supporting laboratories in hospitals, academic institutions, and research organizations. Moreover, Fredrickson organized the relocation of the Institute from Coconut Grove, Florida, to Chevy Chase, Maryland, in close proximity to NIH. He resigned all of his positions at HHMI in 1987 under allegations of financial irregularities, allegations he strongly denied and which were never proved.

From 1987 until his death, Fredrickson was Scholar-in-Residence at the National Library of Medicine, as well as a consultant on medical research and health care issues in the United States and abroad as President of D. S. Fredrickson Associates. Drawing on his early medical training, he became medical adviser to King Hassan II of Morocco in 1975, a service for which he was elected a member of the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco in 1991.

Dr. Fredrickson died at his home in Bethesda on June 7, 2002.

Brief Chronology

1924Born in Cañon City, Colorado (August 8)
1943-1946Engineering student in the Army Specialized Training Program
1946; 1949Receives B.S. and M.D. degrees from the University of Michigan
1949-52Postdoctoral training in internal medicine at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston
1950Marries Dutch law student Henrietta Priscilla Dorothea Eekhof in The Hague, Netherlands
1950-1951James Jackson Cabot Research Fellow in Medicine, Harvard Medical School
1952-1953Research fellow in medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston
1953-1955Clinical Associate, National Heart Institute, National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland; investigates lipid transport in the blood
1955-1961Member of the senior research staff in the Laboratory of Cellular Metabolism, National Heart Institute
1957Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine
1960First to describe and name Tangier disease, an abnormality in the storage of cholesterol in the body
1960Publishes standard textbook, The Metabolic Basis of Inherited Disease, with John B. Stanbury and James B. Wyngaarden
1961-66Clinical Director, National Heart Institute
1962-66Head of the Section on Molecular Diseases in the Laboratory of Metabolism, National Heart Institute
1966-68Director, National Heart Institute
1967New England Journal of Medicine publishes a five-part review of Fredrickson's work on abnormalities in lipid metabolism
1968-74Scientific director, National Heart Institute
1973Participants at the Gordon Conference on Nucleic Acids in New Hampshire call on their fellow scientists to voluntarily suspend certain experiments with recombinant DNA
1974-75President of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences
1975-81Director, National Institutes of Health
1975Over 140 prominent molecular biologists and geneticists attending the Asilomar conference on the dangers of genetically reengineered microorganisms propose a voluntary moratorium on recombinant DNA research until its scientific and ethical implications could be explored
1975-78Chairman, Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC)
1975-81Chairman, Interagency Committee on Recombinant DNA Research
1976Releases NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant DNA Molecules (June 23)
1976Issues a draft Environmental Impact Statement for recombinant DNA experiments (September); a final statement is issued October 1977
1977Initiates NIH Consensus Development Conferences to bridge scientific and professional differences among NIH personnel
1978RAC expanded to include non-scientists, among them the new RAC chairman
1978Chairs National Conference on Health Research Principles, held at NIH
1978Establishes the Office of Medical Applications of Research at NIH
1979Revised recombinant DNA guidelines take effect (January 2), easing containment requirements particularly for experiments involving Escherichia coli strain K-12 as a host-vector system
1979In a time of federal budget shortfalls, Fredrickson secures funding for a minimum of 5,000 new NIH research grants
1981-83Scholar-in-Residence, National Academy of Sciences
1983-87Vice President, then President and CEO of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Chevy Chase, Maryland
1987-2002Scholar at the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda
1987-2002President, D.S. Fredrickson Associates, a health and science policy consulting firm
2002Dies at his home in Bethesda (June 7)

Awards and Prizes

  • American College of Physicians Award
  • American College of Cardiology Distinguished Service Award
  • American College of Cardiology Gold Medal Award
  • American Heart Association Award of Merit
  • American Society for Clinical Nutrition McCollum Award
  • Arthur M. Sackler Foundation Award for Service to Science
  • Commandeur de Ouissam Alaouite
  • Department of Health and Human Services Distinguished Public Service Award
  • Fondazione Lorenzini Medal (Milan)
  • Gairdner Foundation Award
  • Intrascience Award
  • James F. Mitchell International Award for Heart and Vascular Research
  • Jimenez Diaz Award (Madrid)
  • La Madonnina Prize for Science (Milan)
  • Lifetime Achievement Award, Sandoz Research Institute
  • Modern Medicine Distinguished Achievement Award
  • National Cholesterol Award for Public Health Scientific Achievement
  • New York Academy of Science Sarah L. Poiley Award
  • Phi Rho Sigma Irving Cutter Medal
  • Purkinje Medal (Prague)
  • Society of Research Administrators Distinguish Contribution to Research Administration Award

Editorial Appointments

  • American Journal of Medicine, Editorial Board
  • American Physiology Society, Chairman, Publications Committee
  • Circulation Research, Editorial Board
  • Health Affairs, Member of the Advisory Board
  • Issues in Science and Technology, Member of the Advisory Board
  • Journal of Atherosclerosis, Editorial Board
  • Journal of Clinical Investigation, Editorial/Advisory Boards
  • Journal of Lipid Research, Advisory Board
  • Physiology in Medicine, Advisory Board

Honorary Degrees

  • George Washington University
  • Georgetown University
  • Karolinska Institutet
  • Medical University of South Carolina
  • Mount Sinai School of Medicine
  • University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
  • University of Michigan
  • University of North Carolina
  • University of Rochester
  • Yeshiva University


  • American Academy of Dermatology, Marcus R. Caro Memorial Lecture
  • American College of Cardiology, Seventeenth Annual Convocation Lecture
  • American Dermatological Association, The Carl Herzog Guest Lecture
  • American Swiss Foundation for Scientific Exchange University Lectures (Basel, Bern, Lausanne, Geneva, Zurich)
  • Association of American Medical Colleges, Symposium Speaker
  • Association of American Physicians, The Distinguished Lecture
  • Columbia University Conference Science, the Endless Frontier, Speaker
  • Cornell-N.Y. Hospital Policy Conference, Speaker
  • Deutsch Gesellschaft für Klinische Chemie (Bonn), Plenary Lecture
  • Institute of Medicine, Twentieth Annual Meeting, Chairman
  • International Atherosclerosis Society, First Donald S. Fredrickson Lecture on Lipoprotein Research
  • National Institutes of Health Centennial, Plenary Lecture
  • National Library of Medicine, Lister Hill Center, Lecture
  • National Research Council Facilities, Keynote Address, Dedication
  • Royal Academy of Morocco, Casablanca, Speaker
  • Royal Academy of Morocco, Paris, Speaker
  • Royal Academy of Morocco, Rabat, Speaker
  • Stanford University, John Kent Lewis Memorial Lecture
  • Tokyo University, Lecture
  • University of Alabama Birmingham, The Reynolds Lecture
  • University of Pennsylvania, Third Bernard H. Pastor Memorial Lecture


  • Alpha Omega Alpha
  • American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  • American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fellow
  • American College of Cardiology, Fellow
  • American College of Physicians, Fellow
  • American Federation for Clinical Research
  • American Heart Association, Council for the Study of Arteriosclerosis
  • American Philosophical Society
  • American Physiological Society
  • American Society for Clinical Investigation
  • American Society of Human Genetics
  • Association of American Physicians
  • British Cardiac Society, Corresponding Member
  • College of Medicine of Valencia (Honorary)
  • Cosmos Club
  • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Innere Medizine, Corresponding Member
  • Harvey Society (Honorary)
  • Institute of Medicine, Academy of Sciences
  • International Society of Cardiology
  • Medical Society of Sweden (Honorary)
  • National Academy of Sciences
  • Peripatetic Club
  • Phi Beta Kappa
  • Phi Kappa Phi
  • Royal Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco
  • Royal College of Physicians, London, Fellow
  • Society of Pediatric Research