The life and times of John Beard, DSc (1858-1924)

Integr Cancer Ther. 2008 Dec;7(4):229-51. doi: 10.1177/1534735408326174.


The British developmental biologist John Beard, DSc (1858-1924) is little remembered today. Yet, he made outstanding contributions to the life sciences. Beard deserves to be included among the leading biologists of the late 19th and early 20th century. He has been hailed as a forerunner of the present-day theory of the cancer stem cell (CSC). He was the first to point to the parallels between cancer and the trophoblastic cells that envelop and nourish the embryo, characterizing cancer as "irresponsible trophoblast." He pointed out that the initiation of fetal pancreatic function coincided with a reduction in the invasiveness of trophoblast, which otherwise might progress to clinical cancer (ie, choriocarcinoma). Based on the above propositions, he recommended the therapeutic use of pancreatic enzymes in treating cancer and other diseases. This therapy created a worldwide controversy, and although rejected in his day, persists in the world of complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) today.

Publication types

  • Biography
  • Historical Article
  • Portrait

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Complementary Therapies / history
  • Complementary Therapies / methods
  • Embryology / history*
  • History, 19th Century
  • History, 20th Century
  • Humans
  • Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Neoplasms / history
  • Pancreas / embryology
  • Pancreas / enzymology
  • Peptide Hydrolases / therapeutic use
  • United Kingdom


  • Peptide Hydrolases

Personal name as subject

  • John Beard