Bernhard Zondek was born on July 29, 1891, in Wronke, Germany. Coming from a family of doctors, he was expected to go into medicine. His two brothers also became doctors, and some of his interest in endocrinology stemmed from discussions with his older brother, Herman. Bernhard received his M.D. degree in 1918 from the University of Berlin. He served as an assistant in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Berlin from 1919, and was promoted to associate professor in 1926 and chief of the Department in 1929. After the Nazis came to power in 1933 he was dismissed from his posts and left Germany for Sweden. In 1934, he moved to Jerusalem to take a position at Hebrew University where he was appointed professor and served as head of the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the Hadassah Medical School of the Hebrew University. He later continued his endocrine studies at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, joining the faculty as a visiting professor, and died in New York in 1966.
Dr. Zondek was one of the first proponents of the inter-dependence of the endocrine glands under the control of the pituitary gland, and his studies on the interaction between the pituitary and the ovaries did much to establish this fundamental tenet. Early in his career, Dr. Zondek realized that ‘experimental work is essential for the proper evaluation of clinical observations.’ This way of thinking led him to question the mechanism of action of ovarian tissue extract, then in use as a treatment in reproductive health. Through his experiments with ovarian tissue in mice, he discovered the existence of trophic or “feedback” hormones and showed that the anterior lobe of the pituitary acts as the driving motor for the reproductive system by producing hormonotrophin, which induces the ovaries to secrete estrogen, which, in turn, regulates the activity of the pituitary gland. These discoveries led Dr. Zondek to formulate a new concept which became the basic tenet for modern endocrinology: that the endocrine glands do not function independently but are inter-regulated, and are controlled by the ‘master regulator’ – the pituitary gland.
A pioneering reproductive endocrinologist, Benhard Zondek is largely known for developing the first reliable pregnancy test in 1928, based on the finding that the chorionic tissue of the placenta has endocrine capacity. The Aschheim-Zondek test for pregnancy became the most widely used and accurate pregnancy test and is the basis for the modern chemical pregnancy tests. In addition to applications in reproductive health, this finding led to diagnostic techniques important for the recognition and treatment of hydatiform mole and chorionic carcinoma.
One of Dr. Zondek’s great hopes was to use gonadotrophins in treatments of infertility for women. While the preparations he had made at the time did not produce the desired result, 25 years later a successful treatment for infertility was devised based on his findings. The research conducted by Dr. Zondek throughout his lifetime laid the groundwork for modern endocrinology and inspired a generation of researchers and physicians.
In 2007, Dr. Zondek’s daughter, Mrs. Rita Zondek Haas, established the Bernhard Zondek, M.D. Fund at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in memory of her father. This fund supports visits to Einstein by outstanding scientists in the neuroendocrinology of reproduction and metabolism. It also supports awards to young scientists at Einstein to encourage outstanding work in the endocrinology of reproduction and metabolism. By encouraging research in the area to which Dr. Zondek made such seminal contributions, these lectures and awards will keep his vision alive.
Hunger-Promoting Hypothalamic Neurons Regulate Higher Brain Functions & Lifespan
Friday, February 22, 2013, 9:00 AM
Tamas Horvath, DVM, PhD
Jean and David W. Wallace Professor of Comparative Medicine
Professor of Neurobiology, Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences
Chair, Section of Comparative Medicine
Jean and David W. Wallace Professor of Biomedical Research
Director, Integrative Cell Signaling & Neurobiology Metabolism
Yale University School of Medicine