Scope and Content of Collection
Title: D. Carleton Gajdusek Papers
Identifier/Call Number: MSS 421
Mandeville Special Collections Library
9500 Gilman Drive
La Jolla, California, 92093-0175
Language of Material:
14.0 lin. ft.
(35 archives boxes)
Date (inclusive): 1926 - 1997
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and unbound published scientific reprints (1957-1996), published and unpublished typescript journals (1955-1996), and videorecordings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.
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All materials, including all videorecordings and unpublished journals, in boxes 14 through 35, are restricted until December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.
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 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.
SERIES 1: BIOGRAPHICAL MATERIALS
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.
SERIES 2: WRITINGS
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
SERIES 3: VIDEORECORDINGS
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.
SERIES 4: LEGAL FILES
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