Alexander Gordon Bearn

Alexander Gordon Bearn (born March 29, 1923) was Executive Officer of the American Philosophical Society from 1997 until his retirement in 2002. Dr. Bearn, a physician, scientist and author, was elected a member of the Society in 1972 and served as a vice president from 1988 to 1996. He received the Society’s Benjamin Franklin Medal in 2001.

Dr. Bearn was educated in England, attending Epsom College and later receiving his M.B., B.S. and M.D. degrees from the University of London. In 1951 he came to the Rockefeller University and embarked on the study of genetics of rare metabolic diseases. He spent a sabbatical term at the Galton Laboratory at the University of London in 1958-59. In 1964 he was named professor and senior physician at the Rockefeller University.

In 1966 Dr. Bearn became professor and chairman of the Department of Medicine at Cornell University Medical College and physician-in-chief of New York Hospital. He established the first human genetics laboratory at the Medical College and with colleagues at the Rockefeller initiated the joint M.D./Ph.D. program between the institutions. He remained at Cornell until 1979 when he was named senior vice-president for medical and scientific affairs of Merck, Sharpe & Dohme, International Division, a post he held until 1988.

Dr. Bearn's work in the area of human genetics and liver disease led him to define the genetic nature of Wilson's Disease, which affects the liver and brain, and showed that the disease was associated with a deficiency in the blood of a protein which binds copper. He also discovered that the urine of B2 microglobulin, a small protein, was a sensitive indicator of proximal renal tubular damage. This protein was later shown to be of great immunological importance as a part of the HLA histo-compatibility system. His laboratory went on to describe a number of genetic variants in serum proteins that allowed for later work in serum enzymes. [Howard Hughes Medical Institute Memo RE: Election of a new Trustee. 16 October 1987]

A frequent lecturer and author of numerous scientific articles, Dr. Bearn is also the author of Archibald Garrod and the Individuality of Man, published by Oxford University Press in 1993. In 2007 the Royal College of Physicians of London published his second scientific biography, Sir Clifford Allbutt (1834-1925): Scholar and Physician [] . In March 2008 Book Guild Publishing released his third biography, Sir Francis Fraser: A Canny Scot Shapes British Medicine.

He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, and other societies, including the Harvey Society, President 1972-73, and the American Society of Human Genetics, President 1971.

Dr. Bearn served as a Trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute for eighteen years, becoming Trustee Emeritus in 2005. In 1970 Dr. Bearn joined the Rockefeller Board of Trustees and served for twenty-eight years; he was elected Trustee Emeritus in 1998. In 2002 he received the David Rockefeller Award. He also served as a trustee of the Helen Hay Whitney Foundation, the Josiah Macy Jr. Foundation and as an overseer of the Jackson Laboratory.

During the academic year 1996-97, Dr. Bearn was named Distinguished Visiting Fellow at Christ’s College where he began his research on Clifford Allbutt. Dr. Bearn has a number of honorary degrees including an M.D.(hon) from Catholic University, Korea (1968), Docteur (hc), Paris René Descartes (1975) and Honorary Alumnus, Cornell University Medical College, New York (1983).

Currently, Dr. Bearn is working on a family history that follows the Bearn family from Béarn, France to Angus, Scotland and finally to the United States.


* American Philosophical Society Bio []
* Christ's College Bio []

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