Kitasato Shibasaburo

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Baron Kitasato Shibasaburō (北里 柴三郎?, January 29, 1853- June 13, 1931) was a Japanese physician and bacteriologist. He is remembered as the co-discoverer of the infectious agent of bubonic plague in Hong Kong in 1894, almost simultaneously with Alexandre Yersin.



Kitasato was born in Okuni village, Higo Province, (present-day Oguni Town, Kumamoto Prefecture, Kyūshū). He was educated at Kumamoto Medical School and Tokyo Imperial University.

He studied under Dr. Robert Koch in University of Berlin from 1885 to 1891. In 1889, he was the first person to grow the tetanus bacillus in pure culture, and in 1890 cooperated with Emil von Behring in developing a serum therapy for tetanus using this pure culture. He also worked on antitoxins for diphtheria and anthrax. Kitasato and Behring demonstrated the value of antitoxin in preventing disease by producing a passive immunity to tetanus in an animal that received graded injections of blood serum from another animal infected with the disease.

After returning to Japan in 1891 he founded the Institute for Study of Infectious Diseases with the assistance of Fukuzawa Yukichi. One of his early assistants was August von Wassermann. Kitasato demonstrated how dead cultures can be used in vaccination. He also studied the mode of infection in tuberculosis.

He traveled to Hong Kong in 1894 at the request of the Japanese government during an outbreak of the bubonic plague, and successfully identified the bacterium causing the disease; his results were not as widely disseminated as Yersin's, however,Yersin was for many years given primary credit for the discovery, and the bacterium was named after him. Four years later, Kitasato and his student Shiga Kiyoshi were able to isolate and describe the organism that caused dysentery.

When the Institute for Infectious Diseases was incorporated into Tokyo Imperial University in 1914, he resigned in protest and founded the Kitasato Institute (the forerunner of Kitasato University), which he headed for the rest of his life.

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