Alexis Carrel Biography (1873-1944)

surgeon and physiologist

Alexis Carrel was born in Lyons, France, and brought up by his devout Roman Catholic mother after his father, a textile manufacturer, died when Alexis wasfive. Carrel expressed an early interest in science by dissecting birds andconducting chemistry experiments. He received university degrees in both letters (1890) and science (1891) and then studied medicine at the University ofLyons, earning his medical degree in 1900. As a medical student working at hospitals in Lyons, Carrel displayed a deft talent for dissection and surgery.His interest in blood vessel surgery was aroused in 1894 when the French president, Marie Francois Carnot (1837-1894), was shot. The assassin's bullet severed a major artery, and Carnot bled to death because no techniques existed at the time to repair severed blood vessels. Carrel set out to develop such methods. He learned through embroidery lessons how to use very fine needles andsilk thread. He used strict asepsis to avoid infections. To prevent clotting--the major cause of failure in blood vessel suturing--Carrel coated needles,other instruments, and thread with paraffin. To expose blood only to the smooth inner walls of the vessels--thereby further reducing the risk of clotting--Carrel invented the technique of rolling back the vessel ends like cuffs and then stitching the turned-back ends together. Carrel's suturing technique was successfully implemented in 1902. The ability to stitch blood vessels together opened the door to far more sophisticated surgery than had previously been possible, including organ transplantation. Unable to advance professionally at Lyons, Carrel furthered his study of advanced medicine in Paris, France,in 1903 and then moved to Canada, intending to become a cattle rancher. Instead, he became an assistant in physiology at the University of Chicago from 1904 to 1906 and, from 1906 to 1938, was a research member of the RockefellerInstitute for Medical Research in New York City. At both Chicago and the Rockefeller Institute, Carrel expanded his work with blood vessel surgery into the field of organ transplantation, transferring kidneys and other organs in animals. His successful grafting of veins to arteries laid the basis for today's common coronary artery bypass surgery. For his work in suturing and transplantation, Carrel received the 1912 Nobel Prize for medicine or physiology. Carrel also experimented with tissue cultivation. Expanding on the earlier workof Ross Harrison, Carrel kept a piece of tissue from a chick embryo's heartalive and reproducing in his lab for thirty-four years; the tissue culture outlived Carrel! During service for the French army in World War I, Carrel developed a very effective means of irrigating deep wounds with a disinfectant solution. After the war, Carrel collaborated with the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh (1902-1974) to develop a device that would keep entire organs alive outside the body. The Carrel-Lindbergh perfusion pump of the 1930s circulatedblood or a nutrient fluid through the organ via the organ's blood vessels. This perfusion pump was also called an artificial heart and was an important early step in the development of methods to maintain circulation when major organs of the body are undergoing surgical intervention. In 1935 Carrel published a best-selling book, Man, the Unknown, that promoted an ideal worldruled by an intellectual elite. He returned to Paris in 1939, where he remained during the German occupation, establishing an Institute for the Study of Human Problems. Because Carrel accepted support from the Vichy government anddealt with the Germans in connection with his institute, his reputation was maligned by charges of collaboration at the time of this death in 1944 from heart failure in Paris.

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