|Funk, Casimir (1884-1967)|
Polish-born US biochemist who pioneered research into vitamins. He was the
first to isolate niacin (nicotinic acid, one of the vitamins of the B complex).
Funk proposed that certain diseases are caused by dietary deficiencies. In 1911 he demonstrated that rice extracts cure beriberi in pigeons. As the extract contains an amine, he mistakenly concluded that he had discovered a class of 'vital amines', a phrase soon reduced to 'vitamins'.
Funk, born in Warsaw, studied in Berne, Switzerland, and worked at research institutes in Europe before emigrating to the USA 1915. He returned to Warsaw 1923 but, because of the country's uncertain political situation, went in 1927 to Paris, where he founded a research institution, the Casa Biochemica. With the German invasion of France at the outbreak of World War II in 1939, Funk returned to the USA. In 1940, he became president of the Funk Foundation for Medical Research.
Funk failed to find the factor that prevents beriberi in human beings - thiamin, or vitamin B1 - but once it had been isolated by Robert Williams (1886-1965), Funk determined its molecular structure 1936 and developed a method of synthesizing it.
Funk also did extensive research into animal hormones, particularly male sex hormones, and into the biochemistry of cancer, diabetes, and ulcers. He improved the methods used for the commercial manufacture of many drugs, as well as developing several new commercial products in his own laboratories.