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Donald S. Fredrickson Papers

Identifier: MS C 526


Donald Sharp Fredrickson (1924-2002) was an American physiologist and science administrator who made contributions to American medicine over the course of four decades, first as a laboratory scientist, then as a leader of several prominent medical research institutions. As director of the National Institutes of Health from 1976 to 1981, Fredrickson mediated between scientists and the federal government during contentious, far-ranging debates over the direction of medical research policy, research funding, and the dangers of genetic engineering. The collection consists of a wide range of materials related to Fredrickson's scientific and administrative careers


  • 1910-2002 (bulk 1960-1999)


57.86 Linear Feet (55 boxes)


Physical Location

Materials stored onsite. History of Medicine Division. National Library of Medicine

Language of Materials

Collection materials primarily in English

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Portions of the collection are restricted. Contact the Reference Staff for information regarding access.

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Biographical/Historical Note

Donald S. Fredrickson (1924-2002), a physiologist and science administrator, made signal contributions to American medicine over the course of four decades, first as a laboratory scientist, then as a leader of several prominent medical research institutions. Fredrickson's studies of the connection between lipid metabolism (the processing of lipids, chief among them fats and cholesterol, in the body) and heart disease made him one of the most widely cited physiologists of the 1960s and 1970s. His system of classifying disorders in lipid metabolism was adopted by the World Health Organization as an international standard for identifying increased risks of coronary artery disease, heart attack, and stroke linked to the consumption of fats and cholesterol. He also discovered two diseases, cholesterol ester storage disease and Tangier Disease, caused by genetic disorders in the storage of cholesterol in the body. As director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), the world's foremost biomedical research facility, Fredrickson mediated between scientists and the federal government during contentious, far-ranging debates over the direction of medical research policy, research funding, and the potential dangers of genetic engineering that took place in the second half of the 1970s.

Donald Sharp Fredrickson was born in Cañon City, Colorado, on August 8, 1924. During World War II he enlisted in the army reserves at the University of Colorado before transferring to the Army Specialized Training Program in engineering at the University of Michigan, a subject for which military tests had indicated a special aptitude. After another aptitude test and with the end of the war in sight, Fredrickson settled on medicine as his true calling. He received his bachelor's degree in 1946 and his medical degree in 1949, both from the University of Michigan. He was certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in 1957.

While touring Europe by bicycle, Fredrickson met Henriette Priscilla Dorothea Eekhof, a law student at the University of Leyden. They married in her hometown of The Hague in 1950. After one year of separation, Henriette joined her husband in the United States. During the 1950s, she supported the junior scientist and their two sons through an import company for Dutch cigars she founded in their home.

Fredrickson conducted postgraduate research at Harvard University Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital before arriving at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1953. He was one of ten young physicians chosen by NIH Director James Shannon as clinical associates in the National Heart Institute and assigned to the Institute's research laboratories in the newly opened NIH Clinical Center. From an early stage in his professional career, Fredrickson sought to integrate laboratory research with clinical practice, and to place science in the service of treating disease.

After a research career in laboratories devoted to cellular metabolism, physiology, and molecular diseases, he became director of the National Heart Institute (NHI), now known as the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (NHLBI), in 1966, a position he held until 1968. During his term as director the first heart transplant in man was performed by South African heart surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard, with whom Fredrickson arranged a meeting on December 18, 1967, at Chicago's O'Hare airport. The historic meeting was attended by prominent heart surgeons in the United States who soon after replicated Barnard's feat. Fredrickson remained at the National Heart Institute as Director of Intramural Research until 1974.

In late spring of 1974, Dr. Fredrickson left the NIH to become the second President of the Institute of Medicine, a Washington, D.C. health care and medical research policy think tank under the auspices of the National Academy of Sciences. He recalled that he was attracted to his new position because "there was a rich mixture of the dialects and ethics operative in the world outside the laboratory walls" that offered "an unparalleled view of the complex field of human health." During his brief tenure at IOM he proved an effective fundraiser, a new role for an official used to administering, not soliciting, research funds.

Almost from the moment Dr. Fredrickson joined the Institute of Medicine, he was drawn once again into the administrative politics of NIH. The directorship of NIH had become vacant for the second time in as many years. Fredrickson received phone calls from federal officials indicating dissension in the upper ranks of NIH, and asking Fredrickson to step into the void of leadership by becoming NIH director. On April 19, 1975, Fredrickson returned to Bethesda as director of NIH. In a conversation with Philip Handler, the President of the National Academy of Sciences, Fredrickson justified his decision by stating that leading NIH was "not a job; it's a cause."

Over the next six years, Fredrickson's administrative and political skills were frequently tested during the most turbulent period in the history of the NIH. Immediately he was thrown into the growing controversy over the environmental hazards and the ethics of recombinant DNA research, cutting-edge genetic experimentation that, critics warned, could produce new and untreatable pathogens and presented an unwarranted human manipulation of the natural order. During the economic and budget crises of the late 1970s, the U.S. Congress considered reducing government funding on which NIH and, through its extramural grant program, most biomedical research in the United States depended. Fredrickson had to counter arguments from members of Congress who sought to curtail NIH funding by arguing that basic research sponsored by NIH did not yield clinical applications and therapies rapidly enough to benefit patients. Not least, Fredrickson had to adjust to the changing priorities of the three U.S. Presidents and five Secretaries of Health, Education, and Welfare (since 1980, Health and Human Services) under whom he served.

Fredrickson's main successes as NIH director lay in devising guidelines for recombinant DNA research that preserved the freedom of scientific inquiry while allaying public fears of genetic manipulation; stabilizing NIH funding at a time of retrenchment; and fostering consensus among clinical and scientific researchers at NIH, groups that often found themselves at odds in their research objectives and struggle for funding. With these controversies alleviated, Fredrickson stepped down as director of NIH in June of 1981.

After two years as Scholar-in-Residence at the National Academy of Sciences, Fredrickson first became vice president, then president, CEO and trustee of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), founded in 1953 by the aviator and industrialist. Fredrickson oversaw the sale of the Institute's sole asset, the Hughes Aircraft Company, for six billion dollars, as well as the Institute's subsequent expansion into the largest source of philanthropic support for biomedical research in the United States, dispensing research grants and supporting laboratories in hospitals, academic institutions, and research organizations. Moreover, Fredrickson organized the relocation of the Institute from Coconut Grove, Florida, to Chevy Chase, Maryland, in close proximity to NIH. He resigned all of his positions at HHMI in 1987 under allegations of financial irregularities, allegations he strongly denied and which were never proved.

From 1987 until his death, Fredrickson was Scholar-in-Residence at the National Library of Medicine, as well as a consultant on medical research and health care issues in the United States and abroad as President of D. S. Fredrickson Associates. Drawing on his early medical training, he became medical adviser to King Hassan II of Morocco in 1975, a service for which he was elected a member of the Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco in 1991.

Dr. Fredrickson died at his home in Bethesda on June 7, 2002.

Brief Chronology

Born in Cañon City, Colorado (August 8)
Engineering student in the Army Specialized Training Program
1946; 1949
Receives B.S. and M.D. degrees from the University of Michigan
Postdoctoral training in internal medicine at Peter Bent Brigham Hospital in Boston
Marries Dutch law student Henrietta Priscilla Dorothea Eekhof in The Hague, Netherlands
James Jackson Cabot Research Fellow in Medicine, Harvard Medical School
Research fellow in medicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston
Clinical Associate, National Heart Institute, National Institutes of Health (NIH) in Bethesda, Maryland; investigates lipid transport in the blood
Member of the senior research staff in the Laboratory of Cellular Metabolism, National Heart Institute
Certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine
First to describe and name Tangier disease, an abnormality in the storage of cholesterol in the body
Publishes standard textbook, The Metabolic Basis of Inherited Disease, with John B. Stanbury and James B. Wyngaarden
Clinical Director, National Heart Institute
Head of the Section on Molecular Diseases in the Laboratory of Metabolism, National Heart Institute
Director, National Heart Institute
New England Journal of Medicine publishes a five-part review of Fredrickson's work on abnormalities in lipid metabolism
Scientific director, National Heart Institute
Participants at the Gordon Conference on Nucleic Acids in New Hampshire call on their fellow scientists to voluntarily suspend certain experiments with recombinant DNA
President of the Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences
Director, National Institutes of Health
Over 140 prominent molecular biologists and geneticists attending the Asilomar conference on the dangers of genetically reengineered microorganisms propose a voluntary moratorium on recombinant DNA research until its scientific and ethical implications could be explored
Chairman, Recombinant DNA Advisory Committee (RAC)
Chairman, Interagency Committee on Recombinant DNA Research
Releases NIH Guidelines for Research Involving Recombinant DNA Molecules (June 23)
Issues a draft Environmental Impact Statement for recombinant DNA experiments (September); a final statement is issued October 1977
Initiates NIH Consensus Development Conferences to bridge scientific and professional differences among NIH personnel
RAC expanded to include non-scientists, among them the new RAC chairman
Chairs National Conference on Health Research Principles, held at NIH
Establishes the Office of Medical Applications of Research at NIH
Revised recombinant DNA guidelines take effect (January 2), easing containment requirements particularly for experiments involving Escherichia coli strain K-12 as a host-vector system
In a time of federal budget shortfalls, Fredrickson secures funding for a minimum of 5,000 new NIH research grants
Scholar-in-Residence, National Academy of Sciences
Vice President, then President and CEO of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Chevy Chase, Maryland
Scholar at the National Library of Medicine, Bethesda
President, D.S. Fredrickson Associates, a health and science policy consulting firm
Dies at his home in Bethesda (June 7)

Awards and Prizes

  1. American College of Physicians Award
  2. American College of Cardiology Distinguished Service Award
  3. American College of Cardiology Gold Medal Award
  4. American Heart Association Award of Merit
  5. American Society for Clinical Nutrition McCollum Award
  6. Arthur M. Sackler Foundation Award for Service to Science
  7. Commandeur de Ouissam Alaouite
  8. Department of Health and Human Services Distinguished Public Service Award
  9. Fondazione Lorenzini Medal (Milan)
  10. Gairdner Foundation Award
  11. Intrascience Award
  12. James F. Mitchell International Award for Heart and Vascular Research
  13. Jimenez Diaz Award (Madrid)
  14. La Madonnina Prize for Science (Milan)
  15. Lifetime Achievement Award, Sandoz Research Institute
  16. Modern Medicine Distinguished Achievement Award
  17. National Cholesterol Award for Public Health Scientific Achievement
  18. New York Academy of Science Sarah L. Poiley Award
  19. Phi Rho Sigma Irving Cutter Medal
  20. Purkinje Medal (Prague)
  21. Society of Research Administrators Distinguish Contribution to Research Administration Award

Editorial Appointments

  1. American Journal of Medicine, Editorial Board
  2. American Physiology Society, Chairman, Publications Committee
  3. Circulation Research, Editorial Board
  4. Health Affairs, Member of the Advisory Board
  5. Issues in Science and Technology, Member of the Advisory Board
  6. Journal of Atherosclerosis, Editorial Board
  7. Journal of Clinical Investigation, Editorial/Advisory Boards
  8. Journal of Lipid Research, Advisory Board
  9. Physiology in Medicine, Advisory Board

Honorary Degrees

  1. George Washington University
  2. Georgetown University
  3. Karolinska Institutet
  4. Medical University of South Carolina
  5. Mount Sinai School of Medicine
  6. University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey
  7. University of Michigan
  8. University of North Carolina
  9. University of Rochester
  10. Yeshiva University


  1. American Academy of Dermatology, Marcus R. Caro Memorial Lecture
  2. American College of Cardiology, Seventeenth Annual Convocation Lecture
  3. American Dermatological Association, The Carl Herzog Guest Lecture
  4. American Swiss Foundation for Scientific Exchange University Lectures (Basel, Bern, Lausanne, Geneva, Zurich)
  5. Association of American Medical Colleges, Symposium Speaker
  6. Association of American Physicians, The Distinguished Lecture
  7. Columbia University Conference Science, the Endless Frontier, Speaker
  8. Cornell-N.Y. Hospital Policy Conference, Speaker
  9. Deutsch Gesellschaft für Klinische Chemie (Bonn), Plenary Lecture
  10. Institute of Medicine, Twentieth Annual Meeting, Chairman
  11. International Atherosclerosis Society, First Donald S. Fredrickson Lecture on Lipoprotein Research
  12. National Institutes of Health Centennial, Plenary Lecture
  13. National Library of Medicine, Lister Hill Center, Lecture
  14. National Research Council Facilities, Keynote Address, Dedication
  15. Royal Academy of Morocco, Casablanca, Speaker
  16. Royal Academy of Morocco, Paris, Speaker
  17. Royal Academy of Morocco, Rabat, Speaker
  18. Stanford University, John Kent Lewis Memorial Lecture
  19. Tokyo University, Lecture
  20. University of Alabama Birmingham, The Reynolds Lecture
  21. University of Pennsylvania, Third Bernard H. Pastor Memorial Lecture


  1. Alpha Omega Alpha
  2. American Academy of Arts and Sciences
  3. American Association for the Advancement of Science, Fellow
  4. American College of Cardiology, Fellow
  5. American College of Physicians, Fellow
  6. American Federation for Clinical Research
  7. American Heart Association, Council for the Study of Arteriosclerosis
  8. American Philosophical Society
  9. American Physiological Society
  10. American Society for Clinical Investigation
  11. American Society of Human Genetics
  12. Association of American Physicians
  13. British Cardiac Society, Corresponding Member
  14. College of Medicine of Valencia (Honorary)
  15. Cosmos Club
  16. Deutsche Gesellschaft für Innere Medizine, Corresponding Member
  17. Harvey Society (Honorary)
  18. Institute of Medicine, Academy of Sciences
  19. International Society of Cardiology
  20. Medical Society of Sweden (Honorary)
  21. National Academy of Sciences
  22. Peripatetic Club
  23. Phi Beta Kappa
  24. Phi Kappa Phi
  25. Royal Academy of the Kingdom of Morocco
  26. Royal College of Physicians, London, Fellow
  27. Society of Pediatric Research

Collection Summary

Correspondence, photographs, diaries, research materials, reports, writings, drafts, and audiovisual materials (1910-2002; 62.5 linear feet) document the semi-official portion of Donald S. Fredrickson's professional career as a leading biomedical administrator and policy maker. Beginning with his clinical laboratory career at the National Heart Institute, Fredrickson spent over 28 years at NIH, culminating in 1975-1981 when he was Institute Director. During the course of his career, Fredrickson became world-renowned for his dynamic leadership qualities and creative vision about the future directions of biomedical research in the U.S. and NIH's role in that future.

The collection consists largely of records of Fredrickson's activities (travel, talks, etc.) outside the institutions with which he was associated and of subject files he used primarily for his historical researches later in his career. The collection includes a significant amount of correspondence, as well as a large selection of biographical materials, including diaries, scrapbooks, and reminiscences.

Fredrickson began his career as a clinical associate at the National Heart Institute (NHI) in 1953, where he discovered two genetic disorders of the storage of cholesterol in the body: cholesterol ester storage disease and Tangier disease. Aside from articles and speeches, there is very little primary source material (e.g., lab notebooks) documenting his clinical research career at NHI. As Director of NHI, he organized a Conference on Cardiac Transplantation in response to the first human heart transplant, performed by South African heart surgeon Dr. Christiaan Barnard. The collection contains a fair amount of materials on this conference, including memos, schedules, and photographs in Series 8: Professional Activities, National Heart Institute sub-series.

In 1975, Fredrickson was appointed Director of the National Institutes of Health. As Director, Fredrickson led NIH in developing guidelines for recombinant DNA research, and stabilized NIH funding for extramural grants in the face of Congressional budget cuts. Important documentary materials from this period of Fredrickson's career include research materials he prepared for his book The Recombinant DNA Controversy: A Memoir, and the materials of Series 5: Director, NIH, Authorization sub-series, which include reprints, correspondence, memos, notes, etc. relating to grant funding at NIH.

Following his career at NIH, Fredrickson became President and CEO of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. Series 8: Professional Activities, Howard Hughes Medical Institute sub-series contains diaries, correspondence, and newspaper clippings relating to Fredrickson's HHMI presidency.

After a long career of administration, Fredrickson turned to historical research, as a Scholar-in-Residence with the U.S. National Library of Medicine. The materials of Series 9: Clinical Center are the product of that research and provide valuable insight into the history of the NIH Clinical Center. They include photographs, notes, correspondence, and interviews.

The files of Series 9: Clinical Center, Series 4: Recombinant DNA Materials and the Authorization sub-series of Series 5: Director, National Institutes of Health are peculiar in their nature and arrangement. These materials tend not to be original documents, but rather photocopies of the originals, along with additional comments by Fredrickson, which he created on his computer and printed out. The digital files are no longer available, but Fredrickson preserved their arrangement in his paper filing system, noting the titles of the original hard drive folder and sub-folder on each item. In order to preserve the original organization, sub-series titles replicate the computer hard drive's top-level file naming convention. Fredrickson discusses his filing system arrangement for these series in an interview titled "Fredrickson on the Recombinant DNA Controversy," located in Series 11: Audio-Visual Materials, Audio Materials sub-series.


Donald Sharp Fredrickson (1924-2002) was an American physiologist and science administrator who made contributions to American medicine over the course of four decades, first as a laboratory scientist, then as a leader of several prominent medical research institutions. As director of the National Institutes of Health from 1976 to 1981, Fredrickson mediated between scientists and the federal government during contentious, far-ranging debates over the direction of medical research policy, research funding, and the dangers of genetic engineering. The collection consists of a wide range of materials related to Fredrickson's scientific and administrative careers

Physical Location

Materials stored onsite. History of Medicine Division. National Library of Medicine


Gift of Donald S. Fredrickson, 2001. Accession #2001-75.

Alternate Forms Available

Portions of the Collection have been digitized and are available at:


Processed by
Kent Woynowski
Processing Completed
January 2003
Encoded by
Kent Woynowski

Processing Information

Fredrickson was the subject of the first prototype website of Profiles in Science, the U.S. National Library of Medicine's Digital Manuscripts Program's digital archive and exhibition of the papers of key figures in the fields of science and health. Fredrickson was very active in the creation of this digital archive, rearranging many of his papers, adding comments and annotations to specific documents, and collecting files into new series and sub-series, particularly in Series 1: Personal and Biographical and Series 10: Photographic Materials. As a result, it is difficult to ascertain the "original" order of the documents in the collection.

Finding Aid to the Donald S. Fredrickson Papers, 1910-2002 (bulk 1960-1999)
Unverified Partial Draft
Kent Woynowski
January 2003
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is written in English
Edition statement

Collecting Area Details

Part of the Archives and Modern Manuscripts Collection Collecting Area

8600 Rockville Pike
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