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History of Medicine |

Lifelong Curiosity: Frederick Novy and the Rat Virus

Powel Kazanjian, MD
[+] Article and Author Information

From the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan.


Acknowledgment: The author thanks David Miller for his advice on the Killham rat virus and Carly Kish for helping to prepare the manuscript.

Potential Conflicts of Interest: None disclosed. Forms can be viewed at www.acponline.org/authors/icmje/ConflictOfInterestForms.do?msNum=M11-2110.

Requests for Single Reprints: Powel Kazanijan, MD, University of Michigan, 1500 East Medical Center Drive, 3119 Taubman Center, SPC 5378, Ann Arbor, MI 48109; e-mail, pkazanji@umich.edu.

Author Contributions: Drafting of the article: P. Kazanjian.

Administrative, technical, or logistic support: P. Kazanjian.


Ann Intern Med. 2012;156(3):234-237. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-156-3-201202070-00013
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Frederick Novy (1864–1957) was a U.S. physician, medical researcher, and influential microbiologist of the early 20th century who devised culture techniques to visualize anaerobic bacteria, parasites, and spirochetes. In 1909 he began to investigate the cause of unexplained deaths in his laboratory rats, which he hypothesized were due to an “ultramicroscopic organism” or “filterable virus.” But in 1918, the test tubes he had been using for these experiments vanished from his laboratory. His dream of finding a virus as the likely cause of the mysterious deaths of his rats apparently was lost. Novy retired in 1935. Thirty-three years later, in 1951, a box containing the test tubes was discovered by chance during clean-up in preparation for a laboratory move. Novy's curiosity had not waned with time. Notified of the find, and 16 years into his retirement, he returned to his laboratory at the age of 88 to continue the experiments that he had begun more than 40 years earlier. He completed his investigations in 1953 and published his findings that a virus was indeed the unidentified organism that had swiftly killed his laboratory rats in 1909.

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