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Conrad Elvehjem

Conrad A. Elvehjem, (May 27, 1901–July 27, 1962), was internationally known as a biochemist in nutrition. In 1937 he identified a molecule found in fresh meat and yeast as a new vitamin, nicotinic acid, now called niacin.[1] His discovery led directly to the cure of human pellagra, once a major health problem in the United States.

Picking up on the work of Joseph Goldberger, he found that nicotinic acid cured black tongue in dogs, an analogous disease to pellagra. In the previous year, Elvehjem and his colleague Carl J. Koehn had found that a filtrate factor from a liver extract could cure diet-induced pellagra in chicks. That filtrate extract was designated as the vitamin G fraction, after the late Goldberger. To confirm their findings in dogs, they induced black tongue in these animals with the Goldberger diet of yellow corn, before supplementing the diet with the vitamin G fraction. Elvehjem and his colleagues later were able to isolate and identify nicotinamide and nictonic acid from vitamin G as the curative factors for black tongue in dogs. He also contributed greatly to the identification of vitamin B complex and was co-author of more than 780 scientific papers on biochemistry and nutrition. In 1952, Elvehjem was awarded the Albert Lasker Award for clinical medical research. He received the Willard Gibbs Medal in 1943.

Born in McFarland, Wisconsin, Elvehjem began teaching in agricultural chemistry at the University of Wisconsin in 1923, and became a full professor in 1936. In 1944, he was elected chairman of the biochemistry department, and served as dean of the graduate school until he became university's 13th president, in 1958. He died in Madison General Hospital at the age of 61 after suffering a heart attack in his office at Bascom Hall.

Famous in Madison and among biochemists, Elvehjem's name appears on university awards, buildings, a town park, and a local elementary school. His name was formerly on the Elvehjem Art Center (later the Elvehjem Museum of Art), until the museum received a $20 million donation from Simona and Jerome A. Chazen, (both UW-Madison alumni) and renamed itself the Chazen Museum of Art[1] (a controversial move). The building housing the museum retains the Elvehjem name.

Elvehjem’s first graduate student (in 1931) was noted nutritionist Fredrick John Stare who later founded and chaired the department of nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health, where he served until 1976.

Elvehjem commented frequently on nutrition as it affects both scientist and layman. "Vitamins should be obtained from natural foods if possible," he cautioned. "Generally they are cheaper, more palatable, and in better balance with other factors when taken in this form." He acknowledged the value of synthetic vitamins in treating deficiency diseases, but warned that their use should be temporary. (From his obituary in the New York Times, July 19, 1962.)

He met his wife Constance W. Elvehjem when she was an undergraduate at UW Madison. She died in 1999 at the age of 93 after many years supporting the museum and the Madison community.


  1. ^ Koehn CJ, Elvehjem CA (1937). "Further studies on the concentration of the antipellagra factor". J Bio Chem 118 (3): 693–699.
Preceded by
Edwin Broun Fred
President of the University of Wisconsin
Succeeded by
Fred Harvey Harrington
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Conrad_Elvehjem". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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