Jan Moor-Jankowski, is Dead at 81; Used Chimps, Kindly, in Science
By DOUGLAS MARTIN
September 3, 2005
Jan Moor-Jankowski, a scientist known for groundbreaking immunology work
with chimpanzees and whose life was defined by many impassioned battles, from
fighting Nazis in his native Poland to defending press freedoms to exposing
animal abuse, died on Aug. 27 at his home in Manhattan. He was 81.
The cause was a stroke, his wife, Deborah, said.
Dr. Moor-Jankowski, working mainly at a New York University laboratory, was
a pioneer in using chimpanzees and other primates for medical research, and
his accomplishments included helping develop the first hepatitis B vaccine,
conceiving techniques to freeze blood for storage, and carrying out pregnancy
studies that drew the attention of drug companies worldwide.
He was elected to the French Academy of Medicine in 1995, succeeding Linus
Pauling, who had died a year earlier, as the only American member.
But Dr. Moor-Jankowski became known beyond the scientific community because
of a letter he published in The Journal of Medical Primatology, which he
founded and edited. In the letter, an animal rights advocate criticized an
Austrian drug company's plans to capture wild chimps for hepatitis research.
The company, Immuno A.G., sued for libel, initiating a seven-year legal
battle that cost the defendants $2 million and that twice reached both New York
State's top appeals court and the Supreme Court of the United States.
Dr. Moor-Jankowski, supported by a coalition of university officials, media
organizations and animal rights groups, kept battling after all other
defendants in the complicated case dropped out. His eventual victory in the state
appeals court was generally credited with winning greater legal protection for
letters to the editor.
"As a very young boy I fought the Germans for freedom," he said in an
interview with The Scientist in 1996. "I didn't want to stand up for muzzling."
His second very public battle involved his turning in an N.Y.U. scientist to
the federal authorities, alleging cruelty to chimpanzees. In 1995, the
university fired Dr. Moor-Jankowski and barred him from the lab he had founded.
Jan Moor-Jankowski was born in Warsaw on Feb. 5, 1924, and spent an idyllic
childhood in Czestochowa, learning English and German in addition to his
native Polish. His father was an engineer and architect and his mother a concert
pianist. After his mother's cousin developed cancer when he was 5, he decided
he wanted to be a research physician to find a cure.
When the Germans invaded Poland in 1939, the family moved to Warsaw. At 15,
he managed to join the Polish Army. After the Germans and Russians overran
Poland, the family moved back to Czestochowa. Because the Nazis closed the
schools, he earned a high-school diploma at a clandestine school.
Then his father vanished, and at 18, Dr. Moor-Jankowski joined the
underground resistance. During this period he fathered a son because he feared he
might die and wanted something of himself to live on, he wrote.
He saw Tadeusz, the son, in 1942, when the child was two weeks old, and did
not see him again for 35 years. In addition to his wife and Tadeusz, who lives
in Czestochowa, Dr. Moor-Jankowski is survived by another son, Bernard, and
a daughter, Sarah Melikan, both of Manhattan; two grandsons and two
Dr. Moor-Jankowski's underground exploits included impersonating a German
officer in an elaborate scheme to forge travel documents, some of which helped
Jews go to Germany and pose as Polish forced laborers. After an explosive
bullet burst in his knee, he was shifted from hospital to hospital, speaking
German even under anesthesia.
The last of his 27 escapes from German and Soviet prisons was across the
border into Switzerland. He earned his medical degree there, partly by writing
his thesis on the leg brace he invented for himself. His primary interest was
blood types, and his studies of an isolated Alpine population offered proof of
the theory of genetic drift, which holds that gene variants randomly wax and
wane over time.
Dr. Moor-Jankowski's work at Cambridge University with Alexander Wiener -
who with Karl Landsteiner discovered the Rh factor in blood. - paved the way for
the first successful test of a vaccine for hepatitis B.
Dr. Moor-Jankowski experimented on himself, but refused an offer to do
medical tests on American prisoners. He started working with orangutans and other
Dr. Moor-Jankowski came to the United States in 1963 and was recruited by
N.Y.U. to start a primate center. His legal battle with Immuno resulted in his
being awarded the William J. Brennan Defense of Freedom Award by the Libel
Defense Resource Center in 1994.
He was dismissed by N.Y.U. on Aug. 9, 1995, the day after the United States
Department of Agriculture, which regulates animal care, told the university
that he had reported violations at another of its labs. He had been a member of
the university's animal use oversight committee.
At the end of his career, Dr. Moor-Jankowski began to doubt the necessity of
using primates for experiments. But his passion for openness and cleanliness
in animal research had impressed animal rights groups throughout his career.
The militant People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals once gave him 200
coconuts for his chimps.