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The division of the Catholic University of Louvain


The importance of pure research
Christian de Duve Scientist
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I was also against making money out of this research; I was very poorly paid, of course, as a professor like all professors, especially in the old days, but I would not have dreamed of making money. I remember when we had made some finding that could have been patented and I... I was indignant, I refused, I said, ‘I work for humanity; I don't want to make a... take a patent.’ So that was my attitude, but with the student revolt, if I may call it that, of 1968 I started becoming conscious of responsibility. I felt... well, I do still believe that it is the duty of society to support pure research the way I do it and I feel no compunction about getting money from society. But still, it seems to me, and that was a new realisation, that if I should run into something that could be developed into a useful... medically useful application which was my main purpose, of course, at that time, I should become involved. Even as a basic scientist I have a responsibility towards the society that supports me and I should help in the development of possible applications of this discovery. There were two other factors. Rockefeller, of course, had been founded... Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research, had been founded in 1901 by John D Rockefeller Senior, and the purpose of the Rockefeller Institute is pro humani bono generis, which means for the good of mankind. And the tradition at Rockefeller had always been basic research but also with an eye on possible medical applications. So that was another influence. And finally my own... my own research had more or less forced me to think in terms of applications; I mentioned lysosomes and how, with the lysosome concept, we were able to explain not only physiological functions but also pathological alterations of cells, and so I felt more and more, having, in fact, been trained as a medical doctor to start with, that perhaps it was our duty as... as investigators to help.

Belgian biochemist Christian de Duve (1917-2013) was best known for his work on understanding and categorising subcellular organelles. He won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1974 for his joint discovery of lysosomes, the subcellular organelles that digest macromolecules and deal with ingested bacteria.

Listeners: Peter Newmark

Peter Newmark has recently retired as Editorial Director of BioMed Central Ltd, the Open Access journal publisher. He obtained a D. Phil. from Oxford University and was originally a research biochemist at St Bartholomew's Hospital Medical School in London, but left research to become Biology Editor and then Deputy Editor of the journal Nature. He then became Managing Director of Current Biology Ltd, where he started a series of Current Opinion journals, and was founding Editor of the journal Current Biology. Subsequently he was Editorial Director for Elsevier Science London, before joining BioMed Central Ltd.

Tags: John D Rockefeller

Duration: 3 minutes, 15 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008