Culture of syphilis germ and discovery of yellow fever by Hideyo Noguchi

Hideyo Noguchi (野口 英世) succeeded in culturing syphilis in 1911(Meiji 44). In 1913(Taisho 2), he announced that syphilis bacteria can cause progressive paralysis and tabes dorsalis. Noguchi was mentioned as a final candidate for a Nobel Prize. In 1918(Taisho 7) he went on a business trip to Ecuador where yellow fever broke out and found the pathogen that caused the disease. He developed a vaccine that saved a lot of lives.

However, he was told that this vaccine had no effect on yellow fever in Africa, so in 1927(Showa 2) he went to Africa to investigate. Six months later on May 21st, 1928(Showa 3), Noguchi died from yellow fever in the Republic of Ghana at 51 years old. Newspapers around the world reported his death. Noguchi’s funeral was held in grand scale at the Rockefeller Institute. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in New York City in June.

Noguchi was born in Fukushima Prefecture in 1876(Meiji 9). At the age of two, he fell in a sunken hearth and burnt his left hand. He was operated on, which led to his interest in the field of medicine. With the warm support of those around him, Noguchi overcame a variety of difficulties and received a license from the National Examination for Medical Practitioners. He was the youngest to receive one at that time, as he was only twenty years old. Since he thought that he had a handicap with his bad hand, Noguchi started his career as an assistant at a laboratory where an authority on infectious diseases, Shibasaburo Kitasato, worked.

Noguchi was dispatched to China after he discovered plague bacillus. In 1900(Meiji 33), he achieved his long-cherished dream of studying in the US to expand his research on basic medical science. To this end, Noguchi joined the University of Pennsylvania as an assistant.  He later went abroad to study at National Serum Institute in Denmark. Upon completion of his studies in Denmark, Noguchi returned to the US, where he was welcomed as an assistant at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research.

Noguchi’s academic activities were well received. He announced his achievements in research in many papers and contributed heavily to the development of medicine.
His research and clinics inscribed greatly into the history of medicine.
In Japan in July, 2006(Heisei 18) a decision to create the Hideyo Noguchi Africa Prize (野口英世アフリカ賞) was given. This international prize, equivalent to the Nobel Prize, will be given to people who contribute cures to infections and diseases, human prosperity and world peace through medical research and services in Africa. Arrangements are now being made for awarding the prize for the first time in 2008(Heisei 20).