Pasteur, Louis (1822-1895)

pasteur2“Mémoire sur la fermentation appelée lactique”. [In] Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences, v. 45. Paris: Mallet-Bachelier, 1857.  pp. 913-16.

Pasteur’s cure of rabies. Paris: Gauthier-Villars, 1885-1886.

 

Even though he was not a physician, Louis Pasteur contributed invaluably to medicine by discovering that germs cause disease and by developing many needed vaccinations.  This French chemist and professor became interested in bacteria while experimenting on chemical reactions creating fermentation in wine, beer, and milk.  He found that microorganisms producing fermentation diseases were already existent in the atmosphere instead of being spontaneously generated (the former view).  Pasteur announced his discovery in an 1857 journal article, “Mémoire sur la fermentation appelée lactique”, which is considered the first scientific study of bacteriology (Garrison & Morton 2472).  The Reynolds-Finley Library has an original copy of the journal containing this article.  After this writing, he continued to study this subject, and found a way to reduce the spread of fermentation diseases by developing “pasteurization”, a process of increasing temperature to a set level which kills microorganisms (Cambridge 184).  It eventually became customary to pasteurize all perishable foods, and the process was also used to improve the nutrition of infants (Garrison 576).  Later, Pasteur was asked by the French government to investigate a similar problem drastically affecting the silk industry - diseases caused by silkworms.  He identified two microorganisms infecting silkworms, and was able to prevent their spread by early detection (Oxford 1011).  Through these major discoveries, Pasteur not only founded the study of bacteriology, but he also helped change the long prevailing theory that diseases are caused by internal or systematic imbalances to the new idea of external contamination.

Once “germ theory” was known, scientists began searching for cures and preventative measures.  Pasteur became a pioneer in the development of vaccinations, i.e., the introduction into the body of a mild (attenuated) form of a pathogen to produce immunity from the more harmful strain of the disease.  He developed vaccinations for anthrax and fowl cholera, but his rabies vaccine was the most famous.  Pasteur’s research method was the injection of dogs with rabies-infected rabbit tissue weakened to varying degrees by a heating process.  In 1885, a nine-year old boy with rabies from a dog bite was brought to him for help.  After Pasteur consulted physicians and the boy received a fatal prognosis, they decided to test the vaccination, since it certainly could not do more harm.  The vaccination proved successful after a series of injections, and the boy lived (Duffin 81-82).  This demonstration further proved the idea originally introduced by Edward Jenner that inoculation with a mild form of a virus protects against disease (Garrison & Morton 2529.3 & 5483).  The Reynolds-Finley Library has a boxed set entitled Pasteur’s cure of rabies, which contains several complete issues of the French journal Comptes rendus hebdomadaires des séances de l'Académie des sciences from 1885 and 1886.  These issues include articles by Pasteur revealing the vaccination process and the professional dialogue that ensued.

 

Cambridge Illus. Hist. Med., p. 184; Duffin, Hist. of Med., pp. 80-82; Garrison, Hist. of Med. 4th Edition, p. 576; Garrison & Morton, Med. Bib., 5th Edition, 2472 & 5483; Oxford Comp. to Med., Vol. II, p. 1011; Reynolds Historical Library, Rare books and coll., Vol. 2, 2-1386.

 

Image: Louis Pasteur, Print Collection, Reynolds-Finley Historical Library.