Johannes Fibiger

Johannes Andreas Grib Fibiger
Born (1867-04-23)23 April 1867
Died 30 January 1928(1928-01-30) (aged 60)
Nationality Danish
Known for Cancer Research
Notable awards 1926 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine

Johannes Andreas Grib Fibiger (23 April 1867 – 30 January 1928) was a Danish scientist, physician, and professor of pathological anatomy who won the 1926 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Fibiger had claimed to find an organism he called Spiroptera carcinoma that caused cancer in mice and rats. He received a Nobel prize for this discovery. Later, it was shown that this specific organism was not the primary cause of the tumors. Moreover, Katsusaburo Yamagiwa, only two years later in 1915 successfully induced squamous cell carcinoma by painting crude coal tar on the inner surface of rabbits' ears. Yamagiwa's work has become the primary basis for this line of research.[1] Because of this, some consider Fibiger's Nobel Prize to be undeserved particularly because Yamagiwa did not receive the prize.[2] Encyclopædia Britannica's guide to Nobel Prizes in cancer research mentions Yamagiwa's work as a milestone without mentioning Fibiger.[3]


Fibiger became a medical doctor in 1890 and studied under Robert Koch and Emil Adolf von Behring in Berlin. He received his research doctorate from the University of Copenhagen in 1895 and became a professor of Pathological Anatomy and Director of the Institute of Anatomic Pathology (1900) at the same University.[4]


While studying tuberculosis in lab rats, Fibiger found tumors in some of his rats. He discovered that these tumors were associated with parasitic nematode worms that had been living in some cockroaches that the rats had eaten. He thought that these organisms may have been the cause of the cancer. In fact, the rats had been suffering from a vitamin A deficiency and this was the main cause of the tumors. The parasites had merely caused the tissue irritation that drove the damaged cells into cancer; any tissue irritation could have induced the tumors.[5][6][7]

Although the specific link between parasites and cancer was largely ignored, it was discovered later that tissue damage by parasites causes cancer. This was an important advance in cancer research, helminthology and epidemiology. Parasites such as Schistosoma haematobium, Opisthorchis viverrini and Clonorchis sinensis are now established to cause cancer in humans.[8][9]

One of his experiments from 1898 is regarded by some as the first controlled clinical trial.[10]

He died of colon cancer.[11]


  1. "Katsusaburo Yamagiwa (1863–1930)". CA: A Cancer Journal for Clinicians. 27 (3): 172. 1977. doi:10.3322/canjclin.27.3.172. Yamagiwa, then Director of the Department of Pathology at Tokyo Imperial University Medical School, had theorized that repetition or continuation of chronic irritation caused precancerous alterations in previously normal epithelium. If the irritant continued its action, carcinoma could result. These data, publicly presented at a special meeting of the Tokyo Medical Society and reprinted below, focused attention on chemical carcinogenesis. Further more, his experimental method provided researchers with a means of producing cancer in the laboratory and anticipated investigation of specific carcinogenic agents and the precise way in which they acted. Within a decade, Keller and associates extracted a highly potent carcinogenic hydrocarbon from coal tar. Dr. Yamagiwa had begun a new era in cancer research.
  2. James R. Bartholomew. "Katsusaburo Yamagiwa's Nobel candidacy: Physiology or medicine in the 1920s". explores the candidacy of Yamagiwa, who had developed the world’s first efficient method for producing cancer artificially in the laboratory by swabbing coal tar on rabbits’ ears, which had stimulated activity among cancer researchers worldwide. Johannes Fibiger of Denmark, who discovered how to use parasites to cause cancer in rats two years before Yamagiwa’s achievement, received the prize, probably because nominations were often greatly influenced by acquaintanceship, geography, and the marginalization that distance from other centers imposed on the Japanese.
  3. Guide to Nobel Prize. Retrieved on 25 September 2010.
  4. Johannes Fibiger – Biography. (30 January 1928). Retrieved on 25 September 2010.
  5. Clemmesen J (1978). "Johannes Fibiger. Gongylonema and vitamin A in carcinogenesis". Acta Pathol Microbiol Scand Suppl. (270): 1–13. PMID 362817.
  6. Stolley PD, Lasky T (1992). "Johannes Fibiger and his Nobel Prize for the hypothesis that a worm causes stomach cancer". Ann Intern Med. 116 (9): 765–769. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-116-9-765. PMID 1558350.
  7. Modlin IM, Kidd M, Hinoue T (2001). "Of Fibiger and fables: a cautionary tale of cockroaches and Helicobacter pylori". J Clin Gastroenterol. 33 (3): 177–179. doi:10.1097/00004836-200109000-00001. PMID 11500602.
  8. Fried B, Reddy A, Mayer D (2010). "Helminths in human carcinogenesis". Cancer Lett. 305 (2): 239–249. doi:10.1016/j.canlet.2010.07.008. PMID 20667649.
  9. Young ND, Campbell BE, Hall RS, Jex AR, Cantacessi C, Laha T, Sohn WM, Sripa B, Loukas A, Brindley PJ, Gasser RB (2010). "Unlocking the transcriptomes of two carcinogenic parasites, Clonorchis sinensis and Opisthorchis viverrini". PLoS Negl Trop Dis. 4 (6): e719. doi:10.1371/journal.pntd.0000719. PMC 2889816Freely accessible. PMID 20582164.
  10. A. Hrobjartsson, P. C. Gotzsche and C. Gluud (1998). "The controlled clinical trial turns 100 years: Fibiger's trial of serum treatment of diphtheria". BMJ. 317 (7167): 1243–1245. doi:10.1136/bmj.317.7167.1243. PMC 1114170Freely accessible. PMID 9794873.
  11. Petithory JC, Théodoridès J, Brumpt L (1997). "A challenged Nobel Prize: Johannes Fibiger, 1926". Hist Sci Med. 31 (1): 87–95. PMID 11625107.

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