Conrad Elvehjem

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Conrad Elvehjem
Linkomies and Elvehjelm.jpg
Conrad Elvehjem (right)
Born (1901-05-27)May 27, 1901
McFarland, Wisconsin
Died July 27, 1962(1962-07-27) (aged 61)
Fields Biochemistry
Known for Nutrition
niacin
Notable awards Willard Gibbs Award (1943)

Conrad Arnold Elvehjem (May 27, 1901 – July 27, 1962) was internationally known as an American biochemist in nutrition. In 1937 he identified a molecule found in fresh meat and yeast as a new vitamin, nicotinic acid, now called niacin.[1] His discovery led directly to the cure of human pellagra, once a major health problem in the United States.

Biography[edit]

Distillation column used to isolate niacin by Prof. Conrad Elvehjem, c. 1937

Conrad Elvehjem, the son of Norwegian emigrants to Wisconsin, was born in McFarland, Wisconsin. He progressed through the secondary schools and the University of Wisconsin, where he received his PhD in 1927 with mentor E.B. Hart for his studies of the importance of copper in iron-deficiency anemia. A National Research Council fellowship permitted a year at Cambridge University in England. Elvehjem began teaching in agricultural chemistry at the University of Wisconsin in 1923, and became a full professor in 1936. He became chairman of the biochemistry department in 1944 and dean of the graduate school in 1946, at 45 years of age. He served as dean of the graduate school until he became university's 13th president in 1958.[2]

Picking up on the work of Joseph Goldberger, he found that nicotinic acid cured black tongue in dogs, an analogous disease to pellagra. In the previous year, Elvehjem and his colleague Carl J. Koehn had found that a filtrate factor from a liver extract could cure diet-induced pellagra in chicks. That filtrate extract was designated as the vitamin G fraction, after the late Goldberger. To confirm their findings in dogs, they induced black tongue in these animals with the Goldberger diet of yellow corn, before supplementing the diet with the vitamin G fraction. Elvehjem and his colleagues later were able to isolate and identify nicotinamide and nictonic acid from vitamin G as the curative factors for black tongue in dogs. He also contributed greatly to the identification of vitamin B complex and was co-author of more than 780 scientific papers on biochemistry and nutrition. In 1952, Elvehjem was awarded the Albert Lasker Award for clinical medical research. He received the Willard Gibbs Medal in 1943.

Elvehjem commented frequently on nutrition as it affects both scientist and layman. "Vitamins should be obtained from natural foods if possible," he cautioned. "Generally they are cheaper, more palatable, and in better balance with other factors when taken in this form." He acknowledged the value of synthetic vitamins in treating deficiency diseases, but warned that their use should be temporary.[3]

Elvehjem’s first graduate student (in 1931) was noted nutritionist Fredrick John Stare who later founded and chaired the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, where he served until 1976. Elvehjem met his wife Constance W. Elvehjem when she was an undergraduate at UW Madison. She died in 1999 at the age of 94 after many years supporting the museum and the Madison community.

Legacy[edit]

Famous in Madison and among biochemists, Elvehjem's name appears on university awards, buildings, a town park, and a local elementary school. His name was formerly on the Elvehjem Art Center (later the Elvehjem Museum of Art), until the museum received a $20 million donation from Simona and Jerome A. Chazen (both UW–Madison alumni), and renamed itself the Chazen Museum of Art (a controversial move).[citation needed] The building housing the museum retains the Elvehjem name.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Koehn CJ, Elvehjem CA (1937-05-01). "Further studies on the concentration of the antipellagra factor". Journal of Biological Chemistry 118 (3): 693–699. 
  2. ^ Conrad Elvehjem For distinguished contributions to biochemical and nutrition research (Lasker Foundation, 2009)
  3. ^ "C.A. ELVEHJEM, 61 BIOCHEMIST, DEAD." New York Times (1923-Current file): 14. Jul 28 1962. ProQuest. Web. 19 Feb. 2014

Other sources[edit]

External links[edit]

  • A Madison neighborhood is named for him, complete with eponymous park.[1]
  • The University of Wisconsin–Madison has a virtual plaque dedicated to his discovery.[2]
  • Interviews with his wife and some students in the University's Oral History Guide. [3]
  • National Academy of Sciences Biographical Memoir
Academic offices
Preceded by
Edwin Broun Fred
President of the University of Wisconsin
1958-1962
Succeeded by
Fred Harvey Harrington


  1. ^ Koehn CJ, Elvehjem CA (1937-05-01). "Further studies on the concentration of the antipellagra factor". Journal of Biological Chemistry 118 (3): 693–699. 
  2. ^ Conrad Elvehjem For distinguished contributions to biochemical and nutrition research (Lasker Foundation, 2009)
  3. ^ "C.A. ELVEHJEM, 61 BIOCHEMIST, DEAD." New York Times (1923-Current file): 14. Jul 28 1962. ProQuest. Web. 19 Feb. 2014