Albert Claude was a Belgian-American cytologist and medical doctor who, through his vast research, developed the essential processes for isolating and identifying the constituents of living cells. His innovative contributions to cytology were inspired by his continuing interest in cancer research. He used sophisticated biochemical and biophysical techniques, such as enzyme mapping, electron imaging, and differential high-speed centrifugation, among others, to develop a method for cell fractionation. His ground-breaking discovery includes the Rous sarcoma agent and the constituents of cell organelles such as the chloroplast, ribosome, endoplasmic reticulum, lysosome, and mitochondrion. His cytology studies demonstrated complex structural and functional cell features. He was the first to publish certain characteristics of the structure of the cell. In 1974, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine together with his student George Palade and Christian de Duve for his contributions to cytology, which form the foundation of current cell biology. He taught at Rockefeller University, the Catholic University of Louvain, and the Free University of Brussels. He stayed director of the Laboratory of Cellular Biology and Cancer Research in Louvain-la-Neuve. Additionally, he served as the Director of the “Jules Bordet Institute for Cancer Research and Treatment.”
Youth and Early Life
According to his memoirs, he was born on August 24, 1899, although the civil registration lists 1898. He was born in the Belgian town of Neufchâteau, in the little village of Longlier, to Florentin Joseph Claude and Marie-Glaudice Watriquant. Claude is their youngest child, with a daughter and three sons preceding him.
His father had both a bakery and a general store. Since his pre-school years in 1902, he had witnessed his mother suffer from breast cancer. Albert Claude was seven years old when she died.
He enrolled in ‘Longlier Primary School,’ a pluralistic school with a single teacher and a single classroom containing kids of various grade levels. He became a church bellboy and would ring the church bell each morning at 6 a.m.
In 1907, as a result of the economic slump, the family relocated to Athus, a more prosperous location with steel factories. There, he enrolled in a German school but dropped out after a couple of years to care for his uncle, who was disabled due to cerebral hemorrhage. During the early stages of World War I, he worked as an apprentice in steel mills after taking care of his uncle for a number of years.
Winston Churchill’s passion as then-British Minister of War inspired him to enlist in the British Intelligence Service and serve in that capacity during the war. Several times he faced imprisonment in detention camps.
He was awarded both the ‘Interallied Medal and veteran status.
A statute was enacted under the tenure of Marcel Florkin, the then-head of the ‘Direction of Higher Education in Belgium’s Ministry of Public Instruction. It permitted soldiers without formal education to pursue higher education.
In appreciation of his military service, he was admitted to the “University of Liège” in 1922 despite being without a proper secondary degree. In 1928, he was awarded the title of “Doctor of Medicine.”
Albert Claude’s Career
The topic of his doctoral dissertation was the transplantation of mouse cancer into rats, for which he got a travel stipend from the Belgian government. During 1928 and 1929, he resided in Berlin and conducted postdoctoral research at the ‘Institut für Krebsforschung’ and afterward the ‘Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Biology.
In 1929, he was awarded a fellowship by the Belgian American Educational Foundation to do research in the United States. Simon Flexner, the then-Director of the ‘Rockefeller Institute’ (now ‘Rockefeller University) in New York, approved his proposal to conduct research on the investigation and isolation of the Rous sarcoma virus. There, he joined a team led by James Murphy that was analyzing the virus Rous Sarcoma, which primarily infects chickens and causes tumors.
The causative agent of cancer, which is a component of the Rous sarcoma virus, was originally analyzed and purified as “ribose nucleoprotein” (eventually dubbed “RNA”) by Albert Claude in 1938.
He was granted American citizenship in 1941.
In 1945, he was the first to apply electron microscopes, which were typically employed for physical studies, to the study of living cells while examining the structure of mitochondria. His study indicates that mitochondria are the “powerhouses” of all cells.
His discovery also included the protein-combining apparatuses of cells, the cytoplasmic granules containing RNA, which he termed “microsomes” (later renamed “ribosomes”).
This led to the discovery of the endoplasmic reticulum. He and Keith Porter observed a “lace-work” structure that was later shown to be the predominant internal structural feature of eukaryotic cells and not just a random collection of components.
In 1949, he returned to Belgium to accept the position of Director of the “Jules Bordet Institute for Cancer Scientific and Treatment” after having spent two decades of his distinguished research career at the “Rockefeller Institute” in New York. In the same year, he became a professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Brussels, where he remained until 1971.
In 1972, he moved to Louvain-la-Neuve, southeast of Brussels, with Dr. Emil Mrena. There, he became a professor at the Catholic University of Louvain and the director of the Laboratory of Cellular and Cancer Biology. He worked on the Golgi complex’s ultrastructure.
He was also appointed professor at Rockefeller University during this time.
He was awarded honorary doctorates by a number of universities, including ‘Rockefeller University.’
His Notable Works
In 1930, he established the groundbreaking method of cell fractionation. The process involved dissolving the cells and rupturing their membranes in order to release their contents. After removing the cell membranes, he centrifuged the remaining cell mass to dissociate and partition the contents based on their respective mass.
The contents of the centrifuged cells were then separated into mass fractions. Then, he discovered that various fractions were accountable for various cellular processes.
Honors & Accomplishments
In 1974, he shared the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with his student George Palade and Christian de Duve for his discoveries in cytology about “the structural and functional structure of the cell.”
Personal History and Legacy
In 1935, Albert Claude wed Julia Gilder, but the pair eventually divorced. They had a child named Philippa.
He died of natural causes in his Brussels home on May 22, 1983.
Estimated Net worth