Born in New York City, Berson was a keen musician and chess player. He graduated from the City College of New York in 1938. After failing to obtain a place in medical school he earned an MSc (1939) and an anatomy instructorship at New York University before finally securing a place in NYU medical school in 1941. He completed his degree in 1945, and after internships in Boston and two years in the army he returned to New York to do an internal medicine residency at the Bronx Veterans Affairs Hospital.
His scientific work started in 1950, when he became a member of the Radioisotope Service of the hospital, where he teamed with Rosalyn Yalow in what eventually became an historic research parthership. He also set up a thyroid service, where his approach was felt lastingly. Their early laboratory work concerned iodine and human serum albumin metabolism, but later on in the decade they shifted their focus to insulin, a hormone which was difficult to measure in the blood. They developed the radioimmunoassay, which gave very good results, and published their findings in 1960.
With the success of the insulin RIA, Berson and Yalow extended their success to other hormones, such as corticotropin, gastrin, parathyroid hormone and growth hormone, making significant discoveries in their physiology along the way.
Berson, usually together with Yalow, received numerous awards for his work. In 1968, he was elected Murray M. Rosenberg Professor and Chair of Medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine of the City University of New York, enjoying great popularity. He also served on the editorial boards of several medical journals. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1972, but died of a massive heart attack the same month in Atlantic City while attending a FASEB meeting. In 1975 Berson and Yalow received the AMA Scientific Achievement Award (Berson posthumously), and two years later Yalow received a Nobel Prize for their joint work on the radioimmunoassay (Nobel prizes cannot be awarded posthumously).
- Rall JE. Solomon A. Berson. In "Biographical Memoirs". National Academy of Sciences 1990;59:54-71. ISBN 0-309-04198-8. Fulltext.
- Yalow RS, Berson SA. Immunoassay of endogenous plasma insulin in man. J Clin Invest 1960;39:1157-75. doi:10.1172/JCI104130 PMID 13846364.
- Straus E. Gastrointestinal hormones. Mt Sinai J Med 2000;67:54-7. PMID 10679142.
- Straus, Eugene (2000). Rosalyn Yalow: Nobel Laureate: Her Life and Work in Medicine. Basic Books. p. 19. ISBN 0-7382-0263-0.