Today we celebrate the birthday of William P Murphy (6 Feb 1892 – 9 Oct 1987), the American physician who received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1934, together with George Minot and George Whipple, for work done towards the treatment of pernicious anaemia by means of a diet of uncooked liver.

Chicken liver (© All Rights Reserved)
Chicken liver – richer in iron but lower in Vitamin B12 than beef or lamb. I’d rather have it fried, thanks!
(© All Rights Reserved)

Murphy’s initial research involved bleeding dogs to create anaemic conditions in the animals (not a nice thought!), and then treating them with various diets, one of which was a diet of uncooked liver. The discovery that liver helped to relieve anaemia prompted further research into liver by Murphy, Minot and Whipple, and it was found that it contained iron, and that the iron was largely responsible for curing anaemia from bleeding.

Experiments with intramuscular injections of liver extract to treat pernicious anaemia led to further discoveries – it was discovered that in this case the active ingredient was not the iron, but a water-soluble substance later identified as Vitamin B12.

This new knowledge, and the discovery that raw liver and its extracts could be used to treat anaemia, were major advances in medicine at the time.


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