The Lost Life of Ernst Laqueur

Last week marked the birthday of Ernst Laqueur, who was born on August 7, 1880.  Dr. Laqueur was among the first to produce insulin for medical use in Europe.  He was also a pioneer in isolating the hormones estrogen and testosterone.  But more remarkable than Laqueur’s accomplishments was what he had to go through to achieve them.

Lequeur was born in Lower Silesia (then part of Germany, now part of Poland).  While he earned his medical doctorate magna cum laude, most of German academia was closed to Jews.  Laqueur and his wife had to convert to Christianity just to increase his chances at a professorship.

Laqueur was passed over for several opportunities before finally securing a position as a lector.  Then World War I broke out, and he was assigned to research the toxicity of poison gases in German-occupied Belgium.  His work helped gas victims, but it also advanced gas warfare.  After the war, Laqueur was sentenced by Belgium (in absentia) to 15 years’ hard labor for high treason.  But he had already returned to Germany in a hospital train with typhus, which probably saved his life.

Laqueur finally achieved success in Amsterdam in the 1920s and 1930s, founding one of the first pharmaceutical companies in Europe to mass-produce insulin.  He devoted 10 percent of company profits to fund scientific research, successfully isolating estrogen and testosterone.

But when the Nazis entered the Netherlands in 1940, Laqueur lost his professorship and was barred from his laboratory.  He tried to sell his company shares in exchange for a visa out of Europe, but was unsuccessful.  He and his family were sent to concentration camps, but most survived until liberation.

After the war, Britain specifically recruited Laqueur to continue his research, but by then he was a broken man both mentally and physically.  While in Switzerland in 1947, Laqueur stopped to help at a roadside accident and suffered a fatal heart attack.

Laqueur pioneered the field of endocrinology, which studies hormones and the mechanisms that produce them.

Today, human exposure to estrogens is an area of increasing concern.  Estrogen in cow milk and other dairy products can impact the development of infants and children, causing early maturation in girls and delayed maturation in boys.  Exposure to high levels of estrogen has been linked to breast and prostate cancer.

Researchers recently developed a highly sensitive and precise method for quantifying estrogens in milk, using an Agilent UHPLC, Triple-Quad Mass Spec and MassHunter software.  They determined that trace levels for eight different estrogens were well within regulatory requirements, supporting the safety of these dairy products.

For more information go to: