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Hans Kosterlitz

Published: 29 Sep 2014 in Pharmacology Hall of Fame

Elected in 2014
Born on 27 April 1903 in Berlin, Germany
Died on 26 October 1996 in Aberdeen, UK


  • Kosterlitz is widely regarded as the discoverer of the enkephalins, the body's own natural opiates – and he only began this research late in his career, publishing his first paper on morphine at the age of 55
  • He was persistent in investigating pain relief and opioid receptors, and championed the use of methods for comparing potencies of opioid agonists and predicting analgesic effects. His research culminated in the discovery, isolation and characterisation of enkephalin peptides, which occur naturally in the human body and have a morphine-like action
  • His work led to a greater understanding of how the body deals with pain and the many roles that these natural peptides play in addictive and emotional processes in the brain. His efforts resulted in many awards and honours, including the Lasker Award for basic medical research in 1978 
  • It is said that he envisioned one of his best known experiments in a dream. The approach successfully showed that opiates inhibit intestinal motility
  • He has been described as “a man who … loved the fun of communicating science” and consequently he established, with Harry Collier, the International Narcotics Research Club (now Conference) in 1969
  • He was reportedly “an inspiring teacher with a particular rapport with young scientists”, who had a mantra of “a day not spent in the lab is a day wasted” for his many successful researchers. His posts at Aberdeen University included Assistant and Carnegie Teaching Fellow, Lecturer, Senior Lecturer and Reader. At the age of 65, he became the first Professor of Pharmacology at the University of Aberdeen 

 Personal life:

  • His colleagues described “his deep sense of social responsibility and his concern about making a worthwhile contribution for the benefit of mankind”
  • With the onset of the WWII, Kosterlitz felt that his research should help in the "war effort" and focused his work on the liver and the impact of nutrition
  • Although he officially retired at 70 years old, two years before his breakthrough discovery, his research continued until the age of 89
Freeman K. Hans W. Kosterlitz, 93; Found Clues in Brain on Pain Control. New York Times. 1996. Available online: Last accessed: 29 May 2013.
Lees GM. A tribute to the late Hans W. Kosterlitz: ploughing the lone furrow. Can J Physiol Pharmacol. 1998;76(3):244-51. 
McKnight, AT, Corbett, AD. Obituaries: Hans Walter Kosterlitz. BPS Handbook. 1998:194-199.
Milton AS. Obituary: Professor Hans Kosterlitz. Independent. 1996. Available online: Last accessed: 29 May 2013.
North RA. Dr Hans Kosterlitz. INRC. Available online: Dr. Hans Kosterlitz. Last accessed: 31 May 2013.