Eijkman and Beri-Beri

It was a lazy summer afternoon in 1886 in Berlin, Germany at the popular Café Bauer. In one corner, a figure sporting a bushy moustache was hunched over his afternoon coffee, reading a newspaper. It was the 28-year-old Dutch doctor, Christiaan Eijkman. Eijkman motioned to the waiter, who came hurrying over, “I will have another coffee, please.” “Of course, sir,” replied the waiter, eyeing the Dutch newspaper in front of Eijkman. “What brings you to Berlin?” he asked, unable to suppress his curiosity. “I have come to study bacteriology with Professor Koch at the University to investigate the cause of beriberi.” “Beriberi?” inquired the waiter quizzically, “I have not heard of it.” Eijkman straightened up. “It is a disease prevalent in the Indies that has become an issue of national security in the Netherlands.” “How so?” asked the overly curious waiter. Eijkman continued, “Last year, my government sent a naval flotilla to Sumatra to curb pirate operations against merchant shipping. They had to call off the operation on account of the alarming, increasing incidence
of beriberi among both the sailors and soldiers.” The waiter leaned against the table, interest written all over his face. “Fascinating, indeed. It must be a  very serious disease.” Eijkman nodded, “Yes, it is completely debilitating. It involves weight loss, muscle weakness, extreme fatigue, confusion, a loss of the sense of feeling in the limbs, and paralysis. Often, due to fluid collection, it manifests in the swelling of the legs, enlargement of the heart, and heart failure.” The waiter, realizing that he had not yet attended to the doctor’s request, concluded, “Very impressive work! I wish you every success. I’ll get your coffee immediately.” Eijkman nodded and turned back to the newspaper. ...

  • Storytelling Resources

  • Historical Resources

A Primary Sources
Eijkman, Christiaan: Polyneuritis in Chickens, or the Origin of Vitamin Research: Papers, Basel 1990.
Funk, Casimir: The Etiology of the Deficiency Diseases. Beri-beri, Polyneuritis in Birds, Epidemic Deopsy, Scurvy, Experimental Scurvy in Animals, Infantile Scurvy, Ship Beri-Beri, Pellagra, in: Journal of State Medicine 20 (1912), S. 341–368.

B Secondary Sources
Allchin, Douglas: Christiaan Eijkman & the Cause of Beri-Beri, Doing biology, New York, NY 1996.
Carpenter, Kenneth J/Sutherland, B: Eijkman’s Contribution to the Discovery of Vitamins, in: Journal of nutrition 125, Ausgabe 2 (1995), S. 155–163.
Carpenter, Kenneth/Teunis, Annet: The Birth of Vitamin Studies: Eijkman in Java, in: Chemical heritage 13, Ausgabe 2 (1996), S. 32.
Luyken, R/Koninklijk Instituut voor Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (KITLV) (Leiden): Eijkman’s Discovery of the Vitamins and some History of Nutrition Research in Indonesia, Leiden 1992.
Mossel, D.A.A: Christiaan Eijkman: Physician, Utrecht University Professor and Nobel Laureate: A Short Dissertation on the Impact of, and Tribute to, his Career in Public Health World-Wide,  Utrecht 1998.

 

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