Werner H. Kirsten

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Werner H. Kirsten

Werner H. Kirsten (1925 in Leipzig — December 24, 1992 in Hyde Park, Chicago)[1] was a German-American pathologist and cancer researcher, known as the discoverer and namesake of a cancer causing virus, the Kirsten Rat Sarcoma Virus,[2][3] and consequently of the KRAS oncogene.

Early life and education[edit]

Werner H. Kirsten was born in Leipzig in 1925.

He attended the Universität Frankfurt am Main, graduating summa cum laude with an MD in 1953.[4] He subsequently worked at the Senckenberg Institute of Pathology and the Paul Ehrlich Institute in Frankfurt.[4]


In 1955, Kirsten moved to Chicago to pursue an internship and a residency.[5] In 1956, he joined the Pathology Department at the University of Chicago.[4] In 1960, he was granted American citizenship.[5] He became an assistant professor in 1961,[5] and — in the wake of his 1967 discovery of the sarcomavirus[5][1] — a full professor in 1968.[4] In 1972, he was promoted to head of the department of pathology.[4]

In 1986, he left the University and joined the National Cancer Institute as associate director of their facility in Frederick, Maryland.[4] In 1988, he was promoted to director,[1] a position he retained until his death.[1]

Personal life and death[edit]

Kirsten was married to Inger Nielsen, with whom he had three sons, Christian, Olaf and Thomas. He died age 67 on December 24, 1992 in Hyde Park, Chicago.[1]


The Werner H. Kirsten Student Internship Program is a one-year internship for high school seniors in which they can immerse themselves into research and administrative management in a health care environment. [6]


  1. ^ a b c d e DR. WERNER H. KIRSTEN, 67, by Kenan Heise, in the Chicago Tribune; published January 1, 1993; retrieved April 10, 2020
  2. ^ also known as Kirsten Mouse Sarcoma Virus and Kirsten Murine Sarcoma Virus
  3. ^ 30 Years Later, WHK Program Remains a Singular Opportunity, by Chris Worthington, at NCI Frederick; published July 10, 2019; retrieved April 10, 2020
  4. ^ a b c d e f Werner H. Kirsten, 1925-1992, by Victor E. Gould, in The American Journal of Pathology; 1993 Apr; 142(4): 963
  5. ^ a b c d NCI's Werner Kirsten Is Mourned, in the NIH Record; published February 2, 1993; p 8
  6. ^ "Werner H. Kirsten Student Internship Program Earns White House Honors". National Cancer Institute. November 3, 2022.