Niels Kaj Jerne

Niels Kaj Jerne
(1911 - 1994)

Danish immunologist who in 1984, with Cesar Milstein and Georges Kohler, received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine.
Jerne was born of Danish parents and grew up in Denmark. After his graduation from the University of Leiden, Neth., he worked at the Danish State Serum Institute from 1943 to 1956. He received his medical degree from the University of Copenhagen in 1951, and in 1956 he was appointed chief medical officer of the World Health Organization, a position he held until 1962. During the 1960s he taught at the universities of Geneva and Pittsburgh (Penn.) and was professor of experimental therapy at J.W. Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, Ger. He helped to establish the Basel Institute for Immunology and served as its director from 1969 to 1980. After teaching for a year at the Pasteur Institute, Paris, Jerne retired to Gard, France.

Jerne was the first to suggest the now generally accepted explanation of the way in which the immune system produces antibodies to match any possible bacterium, virus, or other type of antigen (invading body). He also offered a comprehensive theory of the development of the immune system as a whole, and in 1974 he presented the so-called network theory, in which he detailed the complex system of interactions whereby the immune system is activated to respond to and counteract disease and then is shut down when it is not needed.

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