Hoffmann, Dietrich, Ph.D.(Biochemist, American Health Foundation, Plaintiff's Expert) Plaintiff
Dietrich Karl Hoffmann was born in 1924 in Germany. According to Richard Kluger, Hoffmann fought for the German Wehrmacht before beginning his career as a scientist. He then studied chemistry under Nobel laureate Professor Dr. Adolf Butenandt, earning a doctorate from the Munich-based Max Planck Institute for Biochemistry in 1957. He then moved to the United States as, in his words, an “exchange student” to do research at the Sloan-Kettering Institute for Cancer Research in New York. He also immediately met fellow German Ernst Wynder and the two began one of the most important partnerships in the history of tobacco research.
In many ways, it was an unlikely pairing. To begin with, Wynder was Jewish and his family had fled Hitler’s regime. In addition, Hoffmann’s personality also contrasted drastically with that of the outgoing and sometimes brash Wynder. Hoffmann himself said that Wynder “meets one hundred people and likes one hundred and ten of them; I meet one hundred and like two of them.”
Despite these differences, the two men shared a mutual regard and the ability to work well together. Hoffmann explained that since he was a biochemist and Wynder a physician, there was “no competition between them.” Just as important, Hoffmann was first and foremost “a lab man” while by the time the two men met Wynder was losing interest in doing research and instead wanted to “carry forward his chief conceptual idea, promotion of preventive medicine in chronic diseases.”
The collaboration between the two men first started to come to the attention of the public in April of 1959 when Wynder announced the results of their attempts to determine the specific substances in tobacco smoke that produced cancer. According to an article in Time, “Ever since Dr. Ernest L. Wynder championed the view that heavy cigarette smoking is a major cause of lung cancer, he has been challenged to produce the substances in tobacco smoke (or tar) that do the damage. Last week the American Association for Cancer Research, meeting in Atlantic City, took Wynder’s word for it that he has now run the number of tobacco-tar fractions capable of causing cancer up to eight, with the end not yet in sight.”
The article went on to explain that Wynder and Hoffmann had “found in the tar no fewer than 17 hydrogen-carbon compounds of the polycyclic group (i.e., with several carbon rings in the molecule). Nine have been exonerated, but to the six already known to produce cancer on the backs of mice the Wynder-Hoffmann team has added two more – 3.4-benzfluoranthene and 10.11-benzfluoranthene.”
Throughout the 1960s, the collaboration produced a series of new revelations. While it was difficult to get the American public interested in the properties of 3.4-benzfluoranthene, 10.11-benzfluoranthene and the like, Wynder was the ideal man to ensure that Hoffmann’s research received the attention it deserved. In turn, Hoffmann was able to concentrate on his laboratory work and became known as one of the world’s leading authorities on the chemical composition of tobacco smoke.
Among Dr. Hoffmann’s accomplishments was becoming the first to employ a radioactive tracer technique to measure polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) in cigarette smoke. He and Wynder also produced important studies linking smoker to cancer in other parts of the body besides the lung. When not conducting cigarette smoke analyses, he developed and applied methodology that assessed PAH levels in gasoline and engine exhaust.
Hoffmann also did important research on a wide range of issues related to cigarette filtration and reduced risk. At a 1964 session of the American Association for Cancer Research, Wynder and Hoffmann announced findings of a study suggesting that filters reduced the number of cancer-inducing properties. They contended that further research might make it possible to devise filters that would eliminate the elements of tobacco smoke that tend to destroy cilia.
While the partnership between Wynder and Hoffmann proved an enduring one, their relationship with Sloan-Kettering head Frank Horsfall, Jr., became strained as a result of the latter's acceptance of research grants from the tobacco industry and subsequent efforts to restrain the budget and pronouncements of Wynder and Hoffmann. In 1969, the two men jointly founded the American Health Foundation in Valhalla, New York. The American Health Foundation had only four employees at the outset, but it gradually grew into a multidisciplinary research center where they were shielded from such interference.
The payoff came in 1974 when Hoffmann and Stephen Hecht led a team that discovered the presence of tobacco-specific, carcinogenic N-nitrosamines in tobacco. As with so many of Hoffmann’s discoveries, the word “nitrosamines” did not become a household word but it did become a term that figured very prominently in tobacco literature. Dr. Hoffmann also came more and more to be consulted on matters pertaining to the chemistry of tobacco. He contributed to the reports of the U.S. Surgeon General, served as an advisor to the International Agency for Research on Cancer, and was the author of more than three hundred articles in peer-reviewed journals.
The forty-year collaboration between Hoffmann and Wynder ended with the death of the latter in 1999. Hoffmann and his wife Ilse continued their affiliation with the American Health Foundation, which changed its name to The Institute for Cancer Prevention, for another five years. Although now in his seventies, Hoffmann held the position of Associate Director and participated in the Cancer Etiology and Prevention research team.
Then on September 21, 2004, the Institute for Cancer Prevention filed for bankruptcy amid allegations of misuse of government grants. The Institute’s CFO, Roy Victor, would eventually plead guilty to obstruction of justice charges.
Allan M. Brandt, The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America (New York: Basic Books, 2007).
“Cancer Experts Find Cigaret Filters Work,” Chicago Tribune, April 12, 1964, A6.
“It Is Less ‘Hazardous,’” Time, April 17, 1964.
Richard Kluger, Ashes to Ashes: America’s Hundred-Year Cigarette War and the Unabashed Triumph of Philip Morris (New York: Vintage Books, 1996).
Richard Kluger, Notes on interview with Dietrich Hoffmann, conducted on May 31, 1991 (http://tobaccodocuments.org/lor/96746924-6928.html).
“Smoking and Cancer (ctd.),” Time, April 27, 1959.
For More Biographical Information:
American Men & Women of Science. A biographical directory of today’s leaders in physical, biological, and related sciences, various editions