Born on July 5, 1919, in Romania, Franz studied the adrenal as a physician scientist in post-World War II Innsbruck, Austria. His work continued at Harvard Medical School, where he held a World Health Organization fellowship in clinical endocrinology in 1948. In 1949, he moved to the University of Minnesota, which saw his breakthrough experiments that led to the important discovery that circadian rhythms are partly endogenous and can be manipulated by environmental synchronizers, notably the lighting and feeding schedules.
Franz coined the term circadian, after documenting that biologic rhythms tip the scale between health and disease and even between life and death. His results were widely published, including a 1969 citation classic. He will be further remembered for showing that timing cancer treatment according to marker rhythms improves outcomes both in terms of heightened efficacy and lesser undesired side effects; for showing that a calorie is different whether it is consumed at breakfast or dinner; and for his work in preventive cardiology by screening for abnormal patterns of blood pressure variability. Corresponding circadian timed treatment more than halved the risk of stroke and other adverse cardiovascular events. “Primum nil nocere” (above all, do no harm) prompted Franz to advocate the individualization of timed treatment, guided by marker rhythms. Franz went on to demonstrate that many other built-in cycles resonate in part with their counterparts in our broad environment. With applications in all fields of medicine and biology, Franz’s legacy is far-reaching.
His work earned him numerous awards, apart from holding professorships in Laboratory Medicine and Pathology, Physiology, Biology, Bioengineering, and Oral Medicine at the University of Minnesota. He was an honorary member of the Romanian Academies of Science and Medical Sciences; received honorary doctorates from the University of Montpellier (France), Ferrara (Italy), Tyumen (Siberia), Brno (Czech Republic), L’Aquila (Italy), and People's Friendship University of Russia (Moscow, Russia). Franz was also an elected member of the prestigious Leibniz Society, and of the International Academy of Science. His achievements in the new field of chronomics earned him the O.Yu. Schmidt Medal and diploma for outstanding merits in development of geophysics, the first such award given to a non-physicist. He was the last recipient of a lifetime career award from the National Institutes of Health.
Franz strived to introduce timing for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, and first and foremost prevention into clinical practice. At 93 years of age he was still active 7 days a week in the Halberg Chronobiology Center at the University of Minnesota, which continues his work.
Franz Halberg (July 5, 1919 – June 9, 2013)