Nobel & Laureates Library Online!

Great • Alfred • Nobel • Gives • Aspiration

Niels Ryberg Finsen M.D.

The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1903

Doctor. Founder of phototherapy in dermatology. Contributed to treatment of diseases, especially lupus vulgaris, with concentrated light radiation. Researched effects of salt. Despite having Niemann-Pick disease, strong willed, persevering.

Early education in Denmark - Rector: "Niels is a very nice boy, but his gifts are small and he is quite devoid of energy." This may have been due to fagging for older pupils. Moved to school in Iceland; succeeded despite initially not knowing language.


Niels Ryberg Finsen had Niemann-Pick Disease, a group of inherited metabolic disorders known as lipid storage diseases. Lipids (fatty materials such as waxes, fatty acids, oils, and cholesterol) and proteins are usually broken down into smaller components to provide energy for the body. In Niemann-Pick disease, harmful quantities of lipids accumulate in the brain, spleen, liver, lungs, and bone marrow. He himself stated, "I suffered from anaemia and tiredness." He had general weakness and ascites. Finsen also developed heart trouble. Becoming more and more disabled, in his later years he needed a wheel-chair. Fluid had to be tapped from his abdomen 18 times a day - often as much as 6 liters.

Niels Ryberg Finsen was unable to attend the award ceremony to receive the Nobel Prize on December 10, 1903. Count Sponneck representing Denmark, received the prize on behalf of Professor Finsen.

As of February 2016 there is still no cure for Niemann-Pick disease. Treatment is supportive.

Photo: nobelprize.org

Name:Niels Ryberg Finsen
Birth: 15 December 1860, Thorshavn, Faroe Islands (Denmark)
Death: 24 September 1904, Copenhagen, Denmark
Affiliation at the time of the award: Finsen Medical Light Institute, Copenhagen, Denmark
Prize motivation "in recognition of his contribution to the treatment of diseases, especially lupus vulgaris, with concentrated light radiation, whereby he has opened a new avenue for medical science"
Field: Dermatology, radiology
Journal Articles
Bearing Laureates Name
Nobel Medal Cash Charity