23 February 2024

140 years ago Kazimierz Funk was born! Polish biochemist who introduced the concept of vitamins and discovered vitamin B1! He was a scientist who revolutionized medicine and created a base of the nutrition science.

Kazimierz Funk was born in Warsaw on 23 February 1884 into a family of doctors. After graduating from secondary school (as an exceptionally gifted student, he passed his matriculation examination at the age of 16), he went to Switzerland to study. By the age of twenty, he already had a PhD from the University of Bern and began scientific work under the supervision of Polish professor Stanisław Kostanecki. He then worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, the Wiesbaden Municipal Hospital in Germany, the University of Berlin, and the Lister Institute in London.

Funk’s work with what are now called vitamins began when he recognized that certain food factors were needed to prevent nutritional-deficiency diseases, such as beriberi (vitamin B 1 deficiency), scurvy (vitamin C deficiency), pellagra ( niacin deficiency), and rickets ( vitamin D deficiency). He suggested that these unidentified substances were all in a class of organic compounds called amines , which are vital to life, so he named them vitamines (vital amines). Although they turned out not to be amines, Funk’s proposal (and the coining of the term vitamine ) has been called a stroke of genius. He later confirmed the existence of vitamins B 1 , B 2 , C, and D, and he stated that they were necessary for normal health and the prevention of deficiency diseases. His hypotheses  stimulated other investigators in the field of nutrition and laid the foundation for rational child nutrition and modern dietetics in general.

In 1923, Funk returned to Poland and began producing insulin to raise funds for further vitamin research in which whe invested his own money. Thanks to Kazimierz Funk, Poland became the third country in Europe to produce its own insulin.

In his later research, Funk studied animal hormones and contributed to the knowledge about hormones of the pituitary and sex glands, emphasizing the importance of balance between hormones and vitamins. Funk also investigated the biochemistry of cancer, diabetes, and ulcers. He improved manufacturing methods for many commercial drugs and developed several new commercial products in his laboratories.

During his lifetime, Funk published more than 140 articles, advanced humankind’s understanding of nutrition and revolutionized the way people looked at their health.

Today, Kazimierz Funk is regarded as one of the most important founders of nutritional science, and it is difficult to underestimate the groundbreaking role of his discovery. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize four times (for physiology and medicine in 1914 and 1925, and for chemistry in 1926 and 1946). However, he never won this most prestigious prize in the world of science.

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