Birthplace: Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Location of death: Rome, Italy
Cause of death: Cancer - unspecified
Race or Ethnicity: White
Sexual orientation: Straight
Occupation: Scientist, Doctor
Executive summary: Anti-histamines, muscle relaxants, sulfanilamide
As a boy, the Swiss-born Italian pharmacologist Daniel Bovet grew mushrooms in his mother's fruit jars, keeping meticulous records on mold growth. As a young scientist, building on the work of Gerhard Domagk, Bovet and his colleagues broke down the chemical compounds that formed Domack's discovery -- prontosil -- and isolated its active germ-killing ingredient, sulfanilamide. Bovet subsequently synthesized hundreds of related compounds, then turned his attention to allergic reactions, and conducted thousands of experiments before developing and refining pyrilamine (mepyramine), the first practical anti-histamine. He spent several years researching the traditional mixtures that had been used to poison Indian arrows, and isolated succinylcholine, a muscle relaxant now used in conjunction with anesthesia during certain surgical procedures. The latter part of his career was spent studying the ways in which mental illness affects brain chemistry.
For all his accomplishments, Bovet never took out a patent in his own name, and he was for many years a scientist whose work was known almost exclusively within scientific circles. He was at home, sick in bed with the flu, when the Swedish ambassador telephoned to inform him had been awarded the 1957 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. Bovet said he had never even spoken with a reporter, until several newsmen knocked on his door within minutes after the ambassador's phone call.
A frequent colleague was bacteriologist Federico Nitti, and Bovet fell in love at first sight with Nitti's sister, the neurochemist Filomena Nitti. He described their first meeting as "a lightning chemical reaction", and she became his life-long collaborator, co-authoring many papers with her husband. Their son, Daniel Pierre Bovet, is a professor of information science at the University of Rome and has written books on the Linux operating system. Bovet's father-in-law, Francisco Nitti, was the Italian Prime Minister from 1918-20. Bovet's own father, Pierre Bovet, was a respected philosopher, and raised his son to speak Esperanto, the international language, as his native tongue (his hundreds of scientific papers were written with equal fluency in French, Italian, and in English). The elder Bovet was later the co-founder and first director of the International Bureau of Education, the first intergovernmental organization for education. IBE has since become part of the United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).
Father: Pierre Bovet (philosopher, b. 5-Jun-1878, d. 1965)
Mother: Amy Babut Bovet (b. 3-Dec-1878, m. 19-Jun-1903, d. 1967)
Wife: Filomena Bovet-Nitti (neurochemist)
Son: Daniel Bovet (computer scientist)
University: BA Physiology, University of Geneva (1927)
Scholar: Physiology, University of Geneva
University: DSci Zoology and Comparative Anatomy, University of Geneva (1929)
Scholar: Therapeutic Chemistry, Pasteur Institute, Paris (1929-45)
Administrator: Therapeutic Chemistry, Italian National Institute of Health, Rome
Professor: Pharmacology, University of Sassari (1964-71)
Professor: Psychobiology, University of Rome (1971-82)
French Legion of Honor 1946
Nobel Prize for Medicine 1957
Naturalized Italian Citizen
French Ancestry Maternal
Author of books:
The Chemical Structure and Pharmacodynamic Activity of Drugs of the Vegetative Nervous System (1948, co-author Filomena Bovet-Nitti)
Natural and Synthetic Curares (1951, co-author Filomena Bovet-Nitti)
Curare and Curare-Like Agents (1957, co-authors Filomena Bovet-Nitti and G. B. Marini-Bettòlo)
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