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Duran-Reynals and the viral etiology of cancer

Yale Medicine Magazine, 2006 - Autumn


Jennifer Kaylin’s article, “The Virus Behind the Cancer” [Spring 2006], unfortunately omits mention of Francisco Duran-Reynals, whose pioneering work on viruses as a cause of cancer was undertaken for the most part in the Department of Microbiology at the School of Medicine for a period of 20 years until his untimely death in 1958. In those years there were very few scientists who worked on viruses as a cause of cancer—Oberling in France and Duran-Reynals, Shope, Bittner, Lucké, Burmeister and Nigrelli in the United States.

A classmate, David J. Nelligan, M.D. ’55, and I had the great privilege of spending some time in Duran-Reynal’s laboratory during our third and fourth years of medical school. We were witness to his many extraordinary personal qualities and his passionate efforts, despite material difficulties, to persuade a disbelieving scientific community of the importance of viruses in the genesis of some cancers. Unfortunately he did not live to see the general acceptance of many of his theories.

Ion Gresser, M.D. ’55
Paris, France

In the Spring 2006 issue there is a lovely article by Jennifer Kaylin called “The Virus Behind the Cancer.” It is not the aim of the article to be complete, however, and for future endeavors it could be fine to refresh the Yale memory about cancer and viruses.

In fact the “virus theory of cancer” came to life at Yale with Francisco Duran-Reynals, (1899–1958), who wrote more than 50 original papers on the subject.

C. Soler-Durall, M.D., M.P.H. ’56, Dr.P.H. ’57
Barcelona, Spain