From the Blue Ridge Institute of Medical Research

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Quotes and aphorisms from Charles B. Huggins, Nobel Laureate in Medicine or Physiology (1966). Huggins was the first director of the Ben May Laboratory of Cancer Research of  the University of Chicago.                    

Charles B. Huggins, circa 1962                            Charles B. Huggins, circa 1987

The 1987 photo David Teplica MD, MFA

What are the rules for discovery? I suspect there are none. I guess that Einstein and Mozart and Michelangelo themselves did not understand the process of creativity or what mystique possessed them during their sublime creative moments. There are no rules but there are guidelines.

Character is the Sire of Excellence. The high accomplishments of mankind are achieved exclusively by men and women of noble character who do nothing mean, small or degrading. They give more than they take.

In science, one always strives for simplicity, which is the elegance of proof: Simplex sigillum veri.

Science is not cold and unfeeling. In scientific investigation one becomes emotionally contained in his problem. Head, heart and hand the three Hs of experimentation all are involved in creativity in the medical sciences, and the combination enables us to recognize a solvable problem.

One works along at the lab bench without haste and without rest. Time has no meanings; every day, something will be done, something will be found out. It is total commitment to the task at hand. It requires Spartan self-discipline. These are happy days; one follows another, hopefully without end, so great is the delight of discovery.

Medicine has a peculiarly intimate relationship to the three fundamentals of science: chemistry, physics and mathematics. Advances in the diagnosis and treatment of disease cannot be developed much faster than the underlying fundamental scientific principles.

Science is ruled by idea and technique, which are welded to form a wheel that revolves and gains momentum. Activity arouses idea, which in turn begets method. With blood on my hands I can discover; seated at my desk, I have no chance. This is the philosophy of activism which governs science.

Nature hides her secrets with consummate modesty and speaks usually in an unintelligible tongue. By means of a good idea, we can force nature to give a yes or no answer. If the answer is maybe, then the experiment is badly designed or poorly executed...One pits his wits against apparently inscrutable nature, wooing her with ardor. Nature is blind justice who cannot recognize personal identity. She can refuse to speak, but she cannot give a wrong answer. She is an unsophisticated, buxom lass who can be cajoled but not forced; her vocabulary consists of only three words: yes, no and perhaps. It is the genius of research to frame a question so simply that a conditional answer is prohibited.

Always the students are here not many of them because I believe the great creative things do not emerge with too many pigeons flying about the room. The students are necessary and a joy. Discussion is helpful in originating new ideas and in bringing out strength and weakness of the protocol...The student provides the zing; he has great self-confidence and the energy of youth and, for him, always there is the carrot, never the stick.

Science is the Art of the 20th century. What are the other arts producing today? Painting, music, poetry they are bankrupt. In literature, we had Shakespeare 300 years ago; in music, a Beethoven 150 years ago. Who has there been since to equal them? Ask any man you meet on the street what science is doing and he will answer with enthusiasm: rockets, moon flights, nuclear discoveries. But ask him about literature and what answer will you get? Nothing, because the arts are in an eclipse.

Medical research is altruistic. It is donated...The physician is the secular priest. He seeks the opportunity to serve, to minister unto the sick and discouraged. I am a devoutly religious man but only in my way and this is not the classical theological sense. Our lab is our church. And when discoveries are made, they are our legacy to the race, to all regardless of domicile or politics.

The first-class scientists that Ive known have been allergic to money....the great scientists of the world are modest people when it comes to finances, and reap their reward in inner satisfaction.

To succumb to cancer is to tread a long and thorny path of pain and discomfort and wasting, which is agonizing to the patient and excruciating beyond belief to his family.

Cancer is the number one problem of mankind more important than outer space or moon shots or communism and weve got to get it licked.

What is cancer research? It is fundamental science...It is not necessary to have cancer cells on ones hands to advance the cure of cancer. Cancer research is basic science-honestly done with simplicity and elegance and proof.

There are two principles in the therapeutic destruction of cancer cells in living hosts: hormonal deprival and hormone interference with a steroid mechanism essential for the life of the cell. Cancer cells can succumb from too little or too much hormone.  

What are the five causes of hematuria? Renal stones, tumor of the kidney, tumor of the bladder, tuberculosis, and acute cystitis in women.

I became certain we had something important. I was excited, nervous, happy. That night I walked home one mile and I had to sit down two or three times, my heart was pounding so. I thought: This will benefit man forever. A thousand years from now, people will be taking this treatment of mine.

Im surprised, and humble...I hope the Nobel Prize wont make me proud. Its a nice thing to have. But its not a great event like a birth or a marriage.

And last but not least" Discovery is our business."

To download a Charles Huggins essay concerned with the craft of creativeness that was published in 1965, click here

For a personal commentary on Huggins, click here

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Created on 27 September 2009; updated 15 May 2011

Visitors since 25 October 2010