Tom Douglas Spies

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Dr. Tom Douglas Spies (September 21, 1902 in Ravenna, Texas – February 28, 1960 in New York, NY) was a distinguished American physician and medical educator. Dr. Spies was an authority in the study of nutritional diseases. In the 1930s, he contributed significantly to finding a cure for pellagra, a nutritional disease that once afflicted millions in the American South. Later, he also made a large contribution to finding cure for tropical sprue. For his efforts in elimination of pellagra, Time Magazine named him as 1938 "Man of the Year" in comprehensive science. [1]



Member of Phi Beta Kappa, he received a B.A. degree from the University of Texas in 1923 and an M.D. from Harvard in 1927. He spent the next two years in pathology in Boston hospitals and then went to Western Reserve University to become an instructor in medicine until 1935.


Dr. Spies became assistant professor of medicine at the University of Cincinnati's College of Medicine (1935–1947). After 1947, he became an instructor at Northwestern University Medical School.

Spies Nutrition Clinic

Dr. Spies was best known as a director of Nutrition Clinic at the Hillman Hospital, Birmingham, Alabama, after 1936.

He was invited to come to Birmingham in 1935 by Dr. James S. McLester, physician-in-chief of the Hillman Hospital, who was then also the President of the American Medical Association. [2]

In 1945, he and six social workers, including Martha Hutchinson, studied the effects of daily supplementation of milk on the growth and development of malnourished children.

Other contributions

Dr. Spies was also appointed to Food and Nutrition Board of National Research Council in 1943, and was a consultant on tropical medicine at Washington's Army Medical School, 1945.

He labored with unremitting zeal to put thiamine, nicotinic acid, riboflavin, folic acid, vitamin B12 and thymine (5-methyl uracil) [3] to use in clinical and preventive medicine.

In the late 1940s, Dr. Spies experimented with the use of folic acid and other vitamins in the treatment of tropical sprue, which was a deadly disease at that time; he conducted his research in Cuba and Puerto Rico. He received recognition from the Cuban and Puerto Rican governments for his efforts.

According to the American Medical Association,

Through his researches, pellagra in the southern United States and tropical sprue in Cuba and Puerto Rico have been virtually eliminated. Perhaps his greatest contribution has been his study of the dietary requirements for the preservation of tissue integrity, whereby premature aging can be prevented. [4]

Honors and awards

Related Research Articles

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Vitamins are organic molecules that are essential to an organism in small quantities for proper metabolic function. Essential nutrients cannot be synthesized in the organism in sufficient quantities for survival, and therefore must be obtained through the diet. For example, Vitamin C can be synthesized by some species but not by others; it is not considered a vitamin in the first instance but is in the second. Most vitamins are not single molecules, but groups of related molecules called vitamers. For example, there are eight vitamers of vitamin E: four tocopherols and four tocotrienols.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Niacin</span> Organic compound and a form of vitamin B3

Niacin, also known as nicotinic acid, is an organic compound and a vitamer of vitamin B3, an essential human nutrient. It can be manufactured by plants and animals from the amino acid tryptophan. Niacin is obtained in the diet from a variety of whole and processed foods, with highest contents in fortified packaged foods, meat, poultry, red fish such as tuna and salmon, lesser amounts in nuts, legumes and seeds. Niacin as a dietary supplement is used to treat pellagra, a disease caused by niacin deficiency. Signs and symptoms of pellagra include skin and mouth lesions, anemia, headaches, and tiredness. Many countries mandate its addition to wheat flour or other food grains, thereby reducing the risk of pellagra.

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Pellagra is a disease caused by a lack of the vitamin niacin (vitamin B3). Symptoms include inflamed skin, diarrhea, dementia, and sores in the mouth. Areas of the skin exposed to either sunlight or friction are typically affected first. Over time affected skin may become darker, stiffen, peel, or bleed.

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  1. Ruth Hanna Sachs, White Rose History. Volume I. 2003. Appendix D, p. 2 ISBN   978-0-9710541-9-6 "Men of the Year, outstanding in comprehensive science were three medical researchers who discovered that nicotinic acid was a cure for human pellagra: Drs. Tom Douglas Spies of Cincinnati General Hospital, Marion Arthur Blankenhorn of the University of Cincinnati, Clark Niel Cooper of Waterloo, Iowa."
  2. Spies Nutrition Clinic Collection
  3. Tom D. Spies M.D. Harvard, Robert E. Stone M.D. Harvard, Guillermo Garcia Lopez M.D. Havana, Fernando Milanes M.D. Havana, Ruben Lopez Toca M.D. Havana, Tomas Aramburu M.D. Havana Thymine, folic acid, and vitamin B12 in nutritional macrocytic anemia,tropical sprue, and pernicious anaemia. The Lancet, Volume 252, Issue 6527, Pages 519–522, 2 October 1948