A Pathologist's Commitment to Study Einstein's Brain

SEPTEMBER 16, 2019
MD Magazine

Simon D. Murray, MD: Dr Thomas Harvey felt kind of like his job was done. Then what happened to Dr Harvey? What was he doing?

Frederick E. Lepore, MD: Well, the job was never done. Literally, when I met him in 2000—this was 7 years before he died—he was going, “You’re a neurologist who does vision, Dr Lepore. How about looking at his occipital lobes?” He had me pitching that idea to the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, to say, “If we get you the sections from the occipital, the visual part of the brain…” And they wouldn’t do it. They said, “We do not take research projects where the donor of the tissue states the objective.” But even in 2000, the guy was still thinking, “How can I get closer to an answer?” And the closest he probably got was in 1999, the year before, with that article I was telling you about in The Lancet looking at the parietal lobe, even though that was not a microscopic study. That just looked at the photographs. He was obsessed with it.

But what you’re alluding to, though, Simon, is that his professional life didn’t go well after 1955. His marriage went bad. He left Princeton. He did some pathology work at some of the facilities in New Jersey. But eventually he headed out to the Midwest. He practiced. I don’t know how much pathology he practiced, but at one point he took up general medicine, which is amazing. This is a guy who did his internship, as we all do, but then went straight into pathology, and now he’s doing general practice. He did that for a few years.

Simon D. Murray, MD: And lost his license.

Frederick E. Lepore, MD: Yeah, pretty much. Well, yes. What they said to him was—and at this point the guy is well into his 70s, maybe in his 80s—“You can sit in on the exam in Kansas,” or someplace like that. For recertification. He came close, but he couldn’t pass it. He’s a lovely guy. He’s a Quaker guy who worked in the soup kitchens to help people less fortunate. Just a lovely, lovely guy. Not a worldly guy. And he ends up working in a plastics extrusion factory in Wichita.

Simon D. Murray, MD: Lawrence, Kansas.

Frederick E. Lepore, MD: Lawrence, Kansas. Yes, sorry, in Kansas. So he stayed busy. He still had the brain.

Simon D. Murray, MD: He kept the brain in a beer cooler?

Frederick E. Lepore, MD: Yes, a cider box, a beer cooler. Wherever he went, he took the brain with him. When asked, if something appropriate came up, he would try to cut off a little piece or send a chunk to someone whom he deemed as a potentially productive researcher, and he did that. But at the end of the day, there was a grand total of 9 articles written on Einstein’s brain. Of those that Dr Harvey actually had something to do with, maybe 5. It’s 1 of those things where you go, “Wow, this is Einstein’s brain. There must be something scientifically valid here.” But a lot of smart people confronted that and said, “I’m not so sure.” I interviewed a number of these people who did the microscopic studies. I said, “Would you do it again?” And 1 guy, who’s a really good scientist, said, “No, I don’t think I’d do it again.” He said, “If you’re interested in intellect, there are better ways of doing it, as far as I’m concerned.” So it’s interesting.

Transcript edited for clarity.

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