Bernardo Alberto Houssay was born in
Buenos Aires, to émigrés from
France, Albert and Clara Houssay. A precocious youngster, he was admitted to the Pharmacy School at the
University of Buenos Aires at 14 years of age and subsequently to the Medical School of the same University from 1904 to 1910, beginning when he was only 17 years old. While a third year medical student, Houssay took up a post as a research and teaching assistant in the Chair of
After graduating, he quickly developed and presented his
M.D. thesis on the physiological activities of
pituitary extracts, published in 1911, a theme he would pursue for the rest of his scientific career. Since 1908 he was already an assistant lecturer in the same department, and immediately after his doctorate he took up the post of Professor of Physiology in the University's School of
Veterinary Medicine. Simultaneously, he started a private practice and as assistant
physician at the municipal hospital of Buenos Aires. In 1913 he became Chief Physician at the Alvear Hospital, and, in 1915, Chief of the Section of Experimental
Pathology at the National Public Health Laboratories in Buenos Aires.
In 1919 Houssay was appointed to the chair of physiology at the
University of Buenos Aires Medicine School, and, until 1943, he transformed and directed it into a highly respected research department in experimental physiology and medicine of international class. In that year, however, the military dictatorship deprived him of his university posts, due to his
liberal political ideas and Houssay was forced to re-establish his research lines and staff at a privately funded
Instituto de Biología y Medicina Experimental. This situation, reinforced by a second dismissal by the
Peronist government in 1945, was prolonged until 1955, when Peron was ousted from power and Houssay was reinstated in the University of Buenos Aires, where he remained till he died. After this he was also director of the
National Scientific and Technical Research Council, from 1957 on.
Houssay’s worked in many fields of physiology, such as the nervous, digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems, but his main contribution, which was recognized by the
Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine of 1947, was on the experimental investigation of the role of the anterior hypophysis gland in the
carbohydrates, particularly in
diabetes mellitus. Houssay demonstrated in the 1930s the diabetogenic effect anterior hypophysis extracts and the decrease in diabetes severity with anterior hypophysectomy. These discoveries stimulated the study of
hormonal feedback control mechanisms which are central to all aspects of modern
Houssay’s many disciples along his years of activity became also influential by themselves as they spread around the world; such as
Eduardo Braun-Menéndez, and
Miguel Rolando Covian (who went to become the "father" of Brazilian neurophysiology, as chairman of the Department of Physiology of the
Medical Faculty of Ribeirão Preto of the University of São Paulo). Houssay wrote with them the most influential textbook of Human Physiology in Latin America, in
Portuguese (the latter was translated by Covian and collaborators), which, since 1950 has been published in successive editions and used in almost all medical schools of the continent. Houssay published more than 600 scientific papers and several specialized books. Besides the Nobel, Houssay won many distinctions and awards from the Universities of
Paris and 15 other universities, as well as the Dale Medal of the
Society for Endocrinology in 1960.
Houssay was also very active as a scientific leader and promoter of the advancement of scientific research and medical education, in Argentina as well as in Latin America. Houssay was elected a
Foreign Member of the Royal Society (ForMemRS) in 1943.