Joseph Charles Aub, 1890-1973, BS, 1911, Harvard University, MD, 1914, Harvard Medical School (HMS), was Professor of Research Medicine at Harvard Medical School and Director of the medical laboratories at Collis P. Huntington Memorial Hospital (CPHMH) at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). He was an endocrinologist whose research focused on cancer and industrial toxicity.
Aub was born on 13 May 1890 in Cincinnati, Ohio, to Samuel and Clara Shohl Aub; he married Elizabeth Frances Cope in 1925. During World War I, Aub was part of an MGH unit that spent 20 months in France and treated soldiers with pneumonia at base hospitals. He also collaborated in France with HMS physiologist Walter Cannon to study the effects of traumatic shock on the recently wounded.
Aub returned to MGH in 1919 and was appointed Instructor of Physiology and Assistant Professor of Applied Physiology at HMS and then Assistant in Medicine at MGH and Assistant Professor in Medicine at HMS in 1924. Aub was named Physician-in-Chief of the CPHMH in 1928, succeeding George Minot; he also held the position of Senior Associate Physician at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital from 1928 to 1942. During this period, Aub developed the theory that the study of normal cells could lead to an understanding of abnormal cell growth, including cancer. Aub was appointed Physician at MGH in 1942 when the CPHMH closed and its laboratories moved to MGH. In 1956, Aub retired from his administrative positions at MGH and HMS, including his chairmanship of the Department of Medicine at HMS, but continued his research as Professor of Research Medicine, Emeritus, maintaining his laboratory at MGH and serving as a member of the MGH Board of Honorary Physicians.
Aub emerged as an early authority on industrial contamination in workers, and collaborated with Harriet Hardy to prevent lead and beryllium poisoning and to promote industrial safety for the World Health Organization. He worked with Manfred Bowditch, a Massachusetts industrial health authority, on industrial hygiene, lead poisoning, and toxicity. Aub also participated in the Shady Hill School Growth Study in Cambridge, Mass. which examined the physical development of elementary school students.
During his career, Aub authored over 300 articles on topics such as lead, metabolism, endocrinology, calcium, and toxicology, and he published the biography of David Edsall, Pioneer in Modern Medicine-David Linn Edsall of Harvard in 1971. Aub was a founder of the American Cancer Society, and was active in Unitarian Service Committee medical missions, the Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology, and the City of Hope Medical Center. Aub died of pneumonia on 30 December 1973 at age 83.
In 1963, Joseph Aub, a researcher at Massachusetts General Hospital, discovered by chance that there were many surface differences between normal cells and cancer cells, an idea that was thought at the time to be so strange, as in the words of one biographer, "to border on lunacy". ()
Aub believed that these differences enabled cancer cells to multiply when normal cell would not, detach from their primary site, and spread throughout the body.
Aub originally worked with enzymes, attempting to digest certain portions of the cancer cell's surface to see if there were any differences
Then, as with many medical discoveries, luck intervened. Of all the enzymes he used, only one, derived from wheat germ, showed any effect,agglutinating the cancer cells. When he replaced this enzyme with an identical one from hog pancreas, again, nothing happened. Obviously, something in the wheat germ, (other than the enzyme Aub was looking at) was agglutinating the cancer cells. As a matter of fact, when he heated the wheat germ extract and destroyed the enzyme, it continued to destroy cancer cells. Aub and his colleagues soon found that the wheat germ enzyme was contaminated with a small protein that was responsible for the agglutinating activity. Aub had discovered a lectin in wheat germ that agglutinated the cancer cells.
Reactions of normal and tumor cell surfaces to enzymes, I. wheat-germ lipase and associated mucopolysaccharides
Joseph C. Aub, Carol Tieslau, and Ann Lankester
PNAS, Oct 1963; 50: 613 - 619.
Aub, Joseph C. (Joseph Charles), 1890- Papers, 1918-1974: A Finding Aid