Niels Ryberg Finsen

Niels Ryberg Finsen

Birth
Tórshavn, Streymoy, Faroe Islands
Death 24 Sep 1904 (aged 43)
Copenhagen, Kobenhavns Kommune, Hovedstaden, Denmark
Burial Copenhagen, Kobenhavns Kommune, Hovedstaden, Denmark
Memorial ID 10366467 · View Source
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Nobel Prize Recipient, Physician. He received international acclaim on December 10, 1903 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology for his research and discovering the use of ultra-violet light to cure skin tuberculosis or the disfiguring disease of Lupus Vulgaris. This was the beginning of modern phototherapy. He was not able to attend the awards ceremony. He was instead at home ill confined to a wheelchair as his own health declined starting in his early 20s. Born on an island between Iceland and Denmark, he was one of ten children in a prominent Icelandic family with roots dating to the Vikings in the 10th century. His father sent him and his older brother to Denmark for schooling, but he did not excel and eventually, sent to Iceland. Returning to Denmark, he studied medicine in Denmark at the University Copenhagen graduating in 1890. After graduation, he taught anatomy at the university while doing research. He became interested in the effect of light had on living organisms. In 1893 his research found that lengthy exposure to a red light resulted in smallpox patients having a lesser formation of the characteristic pockmarks. At first, noted medical researchers rejected his theory until he had these results. Aware the bacteria-destroying effect came from sunlight, he developed an ultra-violet treatment for lupus vulgaris with great success. Several thousands of patients from different European countries came to Denmark and were treated with his technique until his death. Until tuberculosis pharmaceuticals were introduced in the middle of the 20th century, his treatment was the only effective therapy available.He also did research with radiation therapy. The Finsen Institute was founded in Copenhagen in 1896. The Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology earns a gold medal, a diploma bearing the citation and a sum of money. Upon receiving the monetary gift from the Nobel Prize, he donated 50,000 crowns to the institute and 60,000 crowns to a sanatorium for heart and liver diseases, which was also founded by him. He was the third recipient of the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology with the first being awarded in 1901 to German physiologist Emil von Behring. Besides the Nobel Prize, he received the title of Professor in 1892, and in 1899 became a Knight of the Order of Dannebrog, to which a few years later the Silver Cross was added. He was a member or honorary member of numerous societies in Scandinavia, Iceland, Russia, and Germany. He received a Danish Gold Medal for Merit and in 1904, the Cameron Prize was given to him from the University of Edinburgh. He published numerous papers on his research which were translated to German and French. He suffered from Niemann-Pick's Disease, which progressively thickens the connective tissue of certain membranes in the liver, the heart and the spleen. He was anemic, had generalized weakness, and had ascites from chronic liver failure. His abdomen was tapped 18 times draining up to six gallons of fluid at a time. Although there is often dementia with this disease, he remain lucid during his life doing his research. He married and had four children. A large memorial with three nude adults reaching for the sky, “Towards the Light,” was designed by Rudolph Tegner in honor of Finsen and installed next to the National Medical Center in Copenhagen in 1909. In his brief life-span, he employed his knowledge of light to relieve countless patients from terrible disfigurement from smallpox and lupus vulgaris. All this accomplished despite initial rejection by the established research community and failing health.

Bio by: Linda Davis


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  • Maintained by: Find a Grave
  • Originally Created by: Erik Skytte
  • Added: 23 Jan 2005
  • Find a Grave Memorial 10366467
  • Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed ), memorial page for Niels Ryberg Finsen (15 Dec 1860–24 Sep 1904), Find a Grave Memorial no. 10366467, citing Vestre Kirkegard, Copenhagen, Kobenhavns Kommune, Hovedstaden, Denmark ; Maintained by Find A Grave .