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 great-granddaughters.

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 apes.

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.