Casimir Funk

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Casimir Funk
Kazimierz Funk[1]

(1884-02-23)February 23, 1884[2]
Warsaw, Poland
DiedNovember 19, 1967(1967-11-19) (aged 83)[2]
CitizenshipPoland, United States
Alma materUniversity of Bern
Known forNutritional research, formulation of the concept of vitamins
Scientific career
FieldsBiochemist and medical researcher
InstitutionsPasteur Institute
Lister Institute
Funk Foundation for Medical Research

Casimir Funk (Polish: [kaˈʑimjɛʂ ˈfuŋk] Kazimierz Funk; February 23, 1884 – November 19, 1967) was a Polish biochemist generally credited with being among the first to formulate the concept of vitamins after publishing a landmark medical writing in 1912. He highlighted these "vital amines" (or "vitamines") as critical in fighting significant diseases such as pellagra and rickets, and his analysis influenced a major shift in scientific thinking.[4] His scientific work involved research in Poland, France and the United Kingdom. In 1920, he became a citizen of the United States where he continued his work.

Early life and education[edit]

He was born in Warsaw ( the capital of Poland), Poland, the son of a medical specialist in dermatology.[3] In 1904, at the age of twenty, he earned a doctorate in chemistry at the University of Bern.[2] In his early career, he worked as a biochemist at the Pasteur Institute, the Wiesbaden Municipal Hospital, the University of Berlin, and the Lister Institute.[5] Funk emigrated to New York State in 1915, moving back and forth between the United States and Europe until World War II.[5] After working in that country for several years, he became a citizen of the U.S. in 1920.[3]

Funk came from a Jewish background. Retrospective reporting by a British news agency stated that, despite studying in various European countries in the context of increasing domestic antisemitism, he succeeded in his collegiate goals, without any specific obstacles hindering his efforts at those various institutions.[6]


After reading an article by Christiaan Eijkman that indicated that persons who ate brown rice were less vulnerable to beri-beri than those who ate only the fully milled product, Funk tried to isolate the substance responsible, and he succeeded. Because that substance contained an amine group, he called it "vitamine". It was later to be known as vitamin B3 (niacin), although he thought it would be thiamine (vitamin B1) and described it as "anti-beri-beri-factor".[citation needed]

In 1911, he published his first paper in English, on dihydroxyphenylalanine. Funk was sure more than one substance like Vitamin B1 existed, and in his 1912 article for the Journal of State Medicine, he proposed the existence of at least four vitamins: one preventing beriberi ("antiberiberi"); one preventing scurvy ("antiscorbutic"); one preventing pellagra ("antipellagric"); and one preventing rickets ("antirachitic"). From there, Funk published a book, The Vitamines, in 1912, and later that year received a Beit Fellowship to continue his research.[7]

Funk proposed the hypothesis that other diseases, such as rickets, pellagra, coeliac disease, and scurvy could also be cured by vitamins.[8] Funk was an early investigator of the problem of pellagra. He suggested that a change in the method of milling corn was responsible for the outbreak of pellagra,[9] but no attention was paid to his article on this subject.[10]

The "e" at the end of "vitamine" was later removed, when it was realized that vitamins need not be nitrogen-containing amines. He postulated the existence of other essential nutrients, which became known as vitamins B1, B2, C, and D. In 1936, he determined the molecular structure of thiamine, though he was not the first to isolate it. Funk also conducted research into hormones, diabetes, peptic ulcers, and the biochemistry of cancer.[2]

From 1923 to 1927 Funk was the head of the National Institute of Hygiene in Poland.[11] In 1940, after returning to the United States, he became president of the Funk Foundation for Medical Research. He spent his last years studying the causes of neoplasms.[2]


Funk's academic career is noted to have included serving at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine within London, England and the Pasteur Institute within Paris, France while he additionally worked with commercial firms such as the U.S. Vitamin & Pharmaceutical Corp. Upon his death, the American publication Time highlighted both Funk and Elmer Verner McCollum, the latter being known for his discovery of Vitamin A and other efforts, as having significant legacies "in everyday importance" for medicine, with the news organization lauding Funk as a "pioneer". Time additionally commented positively upon Funk's personal character as a "research scientist [who] focused his intense curiosity on other fields" given his status.[3] A medical textbook distributed in 1997 by Taylor & Francis stated that Funk's 1912 release of his "landmark publication" in vitamins had internationally created a "theory [that] provided a new concept for interpreting diet-related events."[4]

Outside of vitamin-related research, Funk's career history has been described as also having significantly extended humanity’s “knowledge of sex hormones."[3] A retrospective analysis by the British publication The Independent in 2024 stated that Funk's discoveries as an overall body of work, especially in terms of nutrition, "has helped the health of many people and led to the cures of several life-threatening diseases." A member of Funk's family, as well, has accepted a Nutrition Hall of Fame award given to the biochemist posthumously.[6]


The Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America (PIASA), a non-profit organization focused on advancing civil society, annually honors Polish-American scientists with the "Casimir Funk Natural Sciences Award". As of February 2024, the last winner of that award was Alexander Wlodawer. An associate of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), Wlodawer has become known in the U.S. as an expert on structural biology.[12] Past winners have included Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann, Aleksander Wolszczan, Hilary Koprowski, Peter T. Wolczanski, Wacław Szybalski, Zbyszek Darzynkiewicz and Benoit Mandelbrot.

A Google Doodle commemorated Funk’s 140th birthday on February 23rd of 2024 in tandem with his family's estate and its various efforts. This included working with Erik Funk, Casimir Funk's grandson, who praised the company's actions.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Iłowiecki, Maciej (1981). Dzieje nauki polskiej (History of Polish Science). Warszawa: Wydawnictwo Interpress. p. 177. ISBN 978-83-223-1876-8.
  2. ^ a b c d e Griminger, Paul (September 1972). "Casimir Funk--a biographical sketch (1884-1967)". J Nutr. 102 (9): 1105–13. doi:10.1093/jn/102.9.1105. PMID 4560436.
  3. ^ a b c d e "Medicine: Death of the Vitamin Pioneer". Time. 1 December 1967. Retrieved 23 February 2024.
  4. ^ a b Vitamin C in Health and Disease. Taylor & Francis. 5 May 1997. pp. 16–17. ISBN 0824793137.
  5. ^ a b "Inductee|Dr. Kazimierz "Casimir" Funk". Nutrition Hall of Fame. American Nutrition Association. Retrieved 23 February 2024.
  6. ^ a b c Neath, Amelia (23 February 2024). "Google Doodle celebrates Casimir Funk's 140th Birthday". The Independent. Retrieved 23 February 2024.
  7. ^ Funk, Casimir (1914). Die Vitamine, ihre Bedeutung für die Physiologie und Pathologie: mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Avitaminosen: (Beriberi, Skorbut, Pellagra, Rachitis); Anhang: Die Wachstumsubstanz und das Krebsproblem. Wiesbaden: J. F. Bergmann. Retrieved 23 October 2018 – via Internet Archive.. See also Funk, Casimir (1922). The Vitamines. Translated by Dubin, Harry E. from the Second German Edition. Baltimore: Williams & Wilkins. Retrieved 26 October 2018 – via Internet Archive.
  8. ^ Funk, Casimir (1912). "The etiology of the deficiency diseases. Beri-beri, polyneuritis in birds, epidemic dropsy, scurvy, experimental scurvy in animals, infantile scurvy, ship beri-beri, pellagra". Journal of State Medicine. 20: 341–68.
  9. ^ Funk, C (1913). "Studies on pellagra. The influence of the milling of maize on the chemical composition and nutritive value of the meal". J Physiol. 47 (4–5): 389–392. doi:10.1113/jphysiol.1913.sp001631. PMC 1420484. PMID 16993244.
  10. ^ Alfred, JAY Bollet (1992). "Politics and Pellagra: The Epidemic of Pellagra in the U.S. in the Early Twentieth Century" (PDF). The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine. 65 (3): 211–221. PMC 2589605. PMID 1285449.
  11. ^ Porta, M.; Jörgens, Viktor (2020). Unveiling Diabetes - Historical Milestones in Diabetology. Basel: S. Karger AG. ISBN 9783318067347.
  12. ^ "Awards". Polish Institute of Arts and Sciences of America. May 2022. Retrieved 23 February 2024.

Further reading[edit]

  • Harow, Benjamin (1955). Casimir Funk: Pioneer in Vitamins and Hormones. New York: Dodd, Mead & Company. p. 209.
  • Piro, Anna; Tagarelli, Giuseppe; Lagonia, Paolo; Tagarelli, Antonio; Quattrone, Aldo (1 January 2010). "Casimir Funk: His Discovery of the Vitamins and Their Deficiency Disorders". Annals of Nutrition and Metabolism. 57 (2): 85–88. doi:10.1159/000319165. PMID 20805686. S2CID 9619130.
  • Funk, Casimir (2008). Complete Dictionary of Scientific Biography. Vol. 5. Detroit: Charles Scribner's Sons. pp. 208–9.

External links[edit]