Jump to Content

Collection Guide
Collection Title:
Collection Number:
Get Items:
Register of the D. Carleton Gajdusek Papers MSS 421
MSS 421  
View entire collection guide What's This?
PDF (143.71 Kb) HTML
Search this collection
Collection Details
Table of contents What's This?
  • Descriptive Summary
  • Restrictions
  • Acquisition Information
  • Preferred Citation
  • Biography
  • Publication Rights
  • Scope and Content of Collection

  • Descriptive Summary

    Title: D. Carleton Gajdusek Papers
    Identifier/Call Number: MSS 421
    Contributing Institution: Mandeville Special Collections Library
    9500 Gilman Drive
    La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 14.0 lin. ft. (35 archives boxes)
    Date (inclusive): 1926 - 1997
    Abstract: The collection contains the papers of D. Carleton Gajdusek, physician, virologist, and medical researcher who received the 1976 Nobel Prize in medicine for his discoveries concerning a new mechanism for the origin and dissemination of infectious disease. This research originated as Gajdusek sought to understand kuru, a unique and fatal condition whose victims were primarily the women and children of the Fore people of the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea. The collection contains bound and unbound published scientific reprints (1957-1996), published and unpublished typescript journals (1955-1996), and videorecordings (1926-1976) filmed by Gajdusek and others. The collection also includes files related to child abuse charges brought against Gajdusek in 1996 by two of the many children he adopted and brought back to the United States from Papua New Guinea and Micronesia and his subsequent plea bargain agreement.
    Creator: Gajdusek, D. Carleton, (Daniel Carleton), 1923-


    All materials, including all videorecordings and unpublished journals, in boxes 14 through 35, are restricted until December 2018 and cannot be used without the written permission of the executor of the estate of D. Carleton Gajdusek.

    Acquisition Information

    Not Available

    Preferred Citation

    D. Carleton Gajdusek Papers, MSS 421. Mandeville Special Collections Library, UCSD.


    Daniel Carleton Gajdusek was born in Yonkers, New York, on September 9, 1923. He graduated from the University of Rochester in 1943 before receiving his M.D. from Harvard University in 1946. After residencies at Columbia-Presbyterian Medical Center, Babies Hospital New York, and Children's Hospital Cincinnati, he served as a fellow in pediatrics and infectious diseases at Harvard from 1949-1952. He then served a year as a captain in the Medical Corps at Walter Reed Army Medical Service Graduate School, studying hemorrhagic fever in Korea and in the USSR.
    Gajdusek began his Nobel-Prize-winning research in 1955 after holding research positions at Cal Tech, at the Institut Pasteur in Tehran, the University of Maryland, and at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medicine in Melbourne, Australia. This was the beginning of Gajdusek's decades-long personal and scientific association with the peoples of Papua New Guinea, described in almost daily detail in his journals and in numerous scientific papers and lectures. In Papua New Guinea, Gajudsek co-discovered and provided the first medical description of kuru, a fatal degenerative disorder of the central nervous system unique to the Fore people of the Eastern Highlands Province of that island. Later Gajdusek and others would conclude that the transmission mechanism of kuru originated from the Fore funeral custom of consuming the brains of the deceased. Women and children, kuru's primary victims, were exposed as they prepared and ingested the bodies of infected tribal members.
    In 1958, Gajdusek became director of the Study for Child Growth and Development and Disease Patterns in Primitive Cultures, and the Laboratory of Slow, Latent, and Temperate Virus Infections at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Maryland. In 1970, he also became chief of NIH's Laboratory of Central Nervous System Studies. While director of these laboratories, Gajdusek also travelled repeatedly back to Papua New Guinea, and around the world, doing additional research and giving lectures and speeches on Kuru and his "slow virus" research.
    Gajdusek's long research career at the National Institutes of Health ended in 1996, when he was charged with child abuse. Gajdusek's case never went to trial because he entered a plea agreement that required him to plead guilty to two counts of child abuse, serve nine months in the Frederick County Adult Detention Center (Maryland) and five years probation. Additionally he had to agree not to travel with any unrelated minor. He was permitted to leave the United States and subsequently lived in Europe, continuing to work and edit his yet-to-be published journals, until his death in Norway.
    Biographies about Gajdusek include his "Autobiography," (an essay written in 1976 at the time of his Nobel Prize Award) available at http://nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/ medicine/laureates/1976/gajdusek-autobio.html, Richard Rhodes' story of the discovery and interrelatedness of the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies and prions entitled, Deadly Feasts: Tracking the Secrets of a Terrifying New Plague (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1997), and Warwick Anderson's The Collectors of Lost Souls: Turning Kuru Scientists into Whitemen.
    Gajdusek died in December 2008.

    Publication Rights

    Publication rights are held by the creator of the collection.

    Scope and Content of Collection

    The papers document physician, virologist, and medical researcher D. Carleton Gajdusek's four decades of research on the causes and transmission of kuru, a neurodegenerative disease found among the Fore people of the eastern highlands of Papua New Guinea. The papers include a broad collection of both Gajdusek's and other scientists' early work on kuru in three bound volumes (1957-1966). Included in the collection are numbered reprints (1957-1996) of Gajdusek's research on the transmissible spongiform encephalopathies (TSEs) and other related subjects. The collection also contains Gajdusek's published and unpublished journals (1955-1996) that chronicle his daily activities while on research expeditions throughout the world, videorecordings (1926-1976), catalogs describing their content, which include extensive films of people with kuru victims, as well as other people, activities, and locations in Papua New Guinea. The collection consists solely of photocopied and published materials and does not include any original, handwritten material. The papers are arranged in four series: 1) BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS, 2) WRITINGS, 3) VIDEORECORDINGS, and 4) LEGAL FILES.
    The BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS series contains two bound volumes which include Gajdusek's abbreviated and full curriculum vitae, lists of family, friends, adopted children, reprint mailing recipients, archival correspondents, published and unpublished journals, and numbered reprints.
    The WRITINGS series is arranged in three subseries: A) Kuru Collected Writings, B) Reprints, and C) Journals.
    A) The Kuru Collected Writings subseries contains three bound volumes of papers (1957-1966) by Gajdusek and other scientists documenting the initial discovery, possible causes, and various investigations surrounding kuru, including Igor Klatzo's comparison of Kuru to Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease in humans, William J. Hadlow's letter to the Lancet comparing kuru to scrapie in sheep, investigations of epidemiology, and early consideration of the cannibalism theories of Robert M. and Shirley (now Lindenbaum) Glasse. Each volume begins with a numbered index in chronological order.
    B) The Reprints subseries gathers three bound volumes of Gajdusek's later papers (1980-1985), beginning with a numbered index. Also included are two hundred and thirty-two unbound reprints (1957-1996) by Gajdusek, alone and with others, published both before and after the bound volumes. In all cases the reprints are arranged chronologically by reprint number.
    C) The Journals subseries contains typescript bound copies of Gajdusek's daily journals from his numerous expeditions around the world. Seventeen of the journals (1955-1970 plus a section of Gajdusek's 1993 journal) are published and unrestricted, and sixteen journals are restricted and unpublished (1955-1996). Some of the journals are edited and contain illustrations and photographs.
    The VIDEORECORDINGS series includes VHS transfers of original clinical demonstration and research films pertaining to Gajdusek's work in Papua New Guinea. The series begins with the five-volume catalog of the Central Nervous System Studies Laboratory (CNSSL) Medical Ethnographic Film Archives. Many of the films described in the catalog are included in this series. The folder descriptions for films represented in the catalog include their corresponding catalog numbers. The videorecordings include all 25 parts of Kuru: A Comprehensive Assembly of All Known Kuru Cinema of Clinical Aspects of Kuru. The series contains a 1970 reprint by Gajdusek that details the first seventeen reels of Kuru film, and includes a table listing the filmers, dates of filming, footage length, and number of Kuru patients filmed. The series also includes Parts 1-3 and 6-7 of Nutrition of the Fore People of New Guinea. In addition to films directly related to Gajdusek's research, the series includes narrated film documenting Matthew W. Stirling's 1926-1927 expedition to New Guinea. Materials in the series are arranged alphabetically by title and are restricted.
    The LEGAL FILES series contains Gajdusek's personal documentation regarding the charges of child molestation brought against him in 1996. The material consists of photocopies of letters and petitions of support from scientists, Papua New Guinean and Micronesian children who lived with him and some of whom were adopted by him, and other citizens and officials of Papua New Guinea. These documents were used to initially support Gajdusek against the charges and later to help convince the judge to accept the plea agreement the parties had negotiated. Also included is correspondence relating to the plea agreement that he entered with the State of Maryland, the United States Attorney's concurrence, an FBI memorandum of an interview with a former scientific colleague who reported his suspicions regarding possible child abuse, press clippings, and documentation of his scientific contributions. This material is restricted until 2018.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Fore (Papua New Guinea people) -- Diseases
    Kuru -- Papua New Guinea
    Virologists -- United States -- Biography