Alexis Carrel

Alexis Carrel ( Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon , France , 28 June as as 1873 – Paris , 5 as November as 1944 ). Biologist , doctor , research scientist , eugenicist and writer French . For his contributions to the medical sciences he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912.

In France, he was honored with the Ordre national de la Legion d’honneur (Order of the Legion of Honor ). He was member of the Accademia of Lincei (Pontifical Academy of Sciences). In May 1902 he witnessed an extraordinary healing in the Shrine of Our Lady of Lourdes , which marked the beginning of a progressive change in his life, which led him from skepticism to faith. Today he is considered one of the most famous converts in Lourdes. 1

Julius H. Comroe, professor emeritus of the Cardiovascular Research Institute at the University of California, San Francisco, wrote:

Carrel won the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912, and did not win it for some dark and esoteric research, but “in recognition of his work on vascular suture, and transplantation of blood vessels and organs.” Between 1901 and 1910, Alexis Carrel, using experimental animals, performed all the actions and developed all the techniques known today in vascular surgery (…). 2

Its beginnings

Alexis Carrel was born in Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon, in the department of Rhone , on June 28, 1873. His ancestors had held significant positions in the service of Lyon and its institutions in the three previous centuries. His family was moderately solvent. His father, Alexis Carrel Billiard, was a fabric manufacturer who in 1871 and at the age of twenty-six married Anne-Marie Ricard. The first child of the marriage was called Auguste, but changed his name to Alexis when his father died. Alexis was the oldest of three brothers and, at the time of his father’s death, he was only five years old. From then on, the economic prospect of the family was rapidly altered. 3

At the age of seventeen he graduated from St. Joseph College (Lyon) and faced the need to choose a career. He considered surgery, scientific research, patient care. Almost without hesitation, he decided to enter the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Lyon, although there was no family history in that discipline. In 1889 he obtained a Degree in Letters, and in 1890 a Degree in Surgery. He completed the courses and practices, and in three years passed the final exams. 3 He was then accepted as an outsider (2 out of 57 postulants) on October 27, 1893 and spent the next two years serving in the Red Cross Hospital and the Hospital Antiguaille . Later he performed military service for 1 year as a medical assistant in the mountain troops unit Chausseurs Alpins . Finally, he developed a 5-year boarding school in different hospitals in Lyon, mainly the Hotel Dieu . 3

He was still a young medical practitioner when French President Marie François Sadi Carnot was assassinated by an Italian anarchist in Lyon in June 1894. The anarchist’s knife had cut a major artery, so the president died after Less than two days of agony without the best surgeons could avoid the fatal outcome. At that time, suturing a large blood vessel was still an issue with no safe solution. The episode left a deep impression on the young Carrel, who decided to solve the problem. 2 He insisted that Carnot’s life might have been saved if the surgeons had known how to suture vessels, in the same way that other tissues were sutured. 3 From his internship, he dedicated himself to experimental vascular surgery specializing in the same University. In 1900, Carrel was a medical doctor.

Scientific development

From the beginning, Alexis Carrel showed a great interest in the possibility of reconstructing arteries , work that began to develop in animals.

In 1902, as a physician and assistant in the Department of Anatomy, Carrel published a paper in the scientific journal Lyon Medical . 4 That scientific work made history, beginning the most outstanding period of his career and catapulting him to fame a decade later, as Carrel sensed that he would. Two weeks later she found herself on the train that took Marie Bailly, a young woman suffering from tuberculous peritonitis in the last stage, to Lourdes. There, Carrel was a skilled witness of Bailly’s extraordinary cure. The precise facts are available in “Dossier 54” and were known as the “Bailly Case”. On the other hand, the spiritual experience that shook Carrel over the next five days was described by him in a manuscript that was only published in 1948 under the title Le voyage de Lourdes, suivi de fragments de journal et de méditations , 5 four years after his death in November 1944. In 1950, it was published in an English translation as The Voyage to Lourdes . Carrel, though bewildered and astonished, accurately reported his observations to the medical community in Lyon. He was then attacked by the clergy, who considered him too skeptical, and by his own medical colleagues, who considered him too credulous and “mystical.” A fellow surgeon told him that he would never pass his surgery exam. 2

Photograph showing students of the University of Columbia on June 4, 1913. Alexis Carrel appears in the center, with his face in front of the camera. In the distribution of diplomas, Carrel received an honorary degree.

Bitter and upset, Alexis Carrel left France for the New World in May 1904, heading first to Canada. In early July 1904, he presented a paper in Montreal on vascular anastomosis for the II Congress of Medicine of the French language of North America. At the hearing was Dr. Carl Beck, a well-known Chicago surgeon, who was convinced that Carrel must belong to Chicago. In November of that year, Carrel was offered two positions in Chicago: one at the University of Illinois with Beck, and another at the Department of Physiology at the University of Chicago. He accepted the second option, probably because GN Stewart, a renowned cardiovascular physiologist, was director of that Department. 2 At that time, Carrel was interested in experiences like American surgeon Rudolph Matas on the treatment of aneurysms . 6 Thus, Carrel emigrated to the United States of America in November, 1904 . 2

His work continued at the University of Chicago (1904-1906) and the Rockefeller Institute ( Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research ) in New York , where he remained until lapsos- brief except 1938 , when he returned to Europe .

Carrel’s research mainly concerned experimental surgery and transplantation of intact tissues and organs . Until now vascular structures were sutured and bone or precious metal cannulas were used. Alexis Carrel devised a new suture system that avoided attaching the vascular borders directly. For this he made cuts at the ends of the vessels and turned them. Then he used waxed material in the suture. With this method managed to avoid bleeding postoperative and formation of clots blood . With the suture of the ends outwards or reversed, it obtained that in the interior did not remain loose threads that favored the later formation of thrombi.

Carrel and Guthrie were the first to observe that, when a vein was used to replace an arterial segment in the same individual, the vein assumed artery characteristics whereas, when an artery replaced a vein, the arterial wall thinned and assumed the Characteristics of a vein. 7

In 1910 he described in an article all his advances made with this new system of vascular suture. With his technique, Carrel was able to join blood vessels only one millimeter in diameter. Encouraged by his findings, he devoted his research to vascular transplants: taking a portion of a glass, managed to use it elsewhere in the patient.

Among the contributions of Carrel surgery are the autograft (autologous) in animals, with which he won numerous successes, although there were rejections called homografts (homotransplants) of organs from different individuals of the same species. It also highlights transplants ears , thyroid , kidney and spleen , as well as its achievements in the conservation of blood vessels to transplant that would avoid waiting for a potential donor (He used to cold storage or cold storage ). 8 9

Christiaan Neethling Barnard is credited as the first to transplant the heart of one human being to another in late 1967. But the idea was not new. Carrel and Guthrie had done so in a dog as early as 1905. 10 Carrel described lung and heart transplantation in 1907. 11

During World War I he devised together with the British chemist Henry Dakin the Carrel-Dakin solution , a type of antiseptic successfully used to cleanse and combat the infection of open war wounds. 12

His work on experimental vascular surgery was published in the most popular journals: Journal of the American Medical Association (18 articles), Journal of Experimental Medicine (25 articles), Science (7 articles), Surgery, Gynecology and Obstetrics (5 articles), Annals of Surgery (3 articles), Transactions of the American Surgical Society (3 articles), Bulletin of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and British Medical Journal . 2

Awards and honors

In 1912 Alexis Carrel received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine “in recognition of his work on vascular suture, and transplantation of blood vessels and organs.” The comments produced by the scientific media after being awarded Nobel Prize winner Alexis Carrel continued to be remarkable:

And there is a new breakthrough in blood vessel surgery that is, perhaps, even more amazing. Carrel has shown that a portion of the artery can be kept in the cold room for several days or even weeks before the transplant and still be alive. Moreover, although as a general rule, the tissue of one animal will not grow in the body of another animal of a different species, Carrel has found that these portions of blood vessels of dogs can be transplanted from a cold room successfully in the Bodies of cats. No one who has followed with interest these new advances in surgery can doubt that they contain immense possibilities, and the application of the methods learned in the animals to the human being can not be delayed.

The Lancet , 19 October 1912 editorial

Carrel was honored with membership of scientific societies in the USA, Spain, Russia, Sweden, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Vatican City, Germany, Italy and Greece, and honorary doctorates from the Universities of Belfast, Princeton , California, New York, Brown and Columbia. He received the order of the Legion of Honor of France, and the Order of Leopold of Belgium . He was Grand Commander in the Order of the Polar Star of Sweden, and the recipient of other decorations in Spain, Serbia, Great Britain and the Holy See .

Alexis Carrel and Lourdes

Fifteen years before the birth of Alexis Carrel, on February 11, 1858, and for six months, a very poor teenager named Bernadette Soubirous testified that she received the revelations of the Virgin Mary in the invocation of the Immaculate Conception in the small grotto of Masse -Vieille (now called Massabielle), on the outskirts of Lourdes (France). The subsequent death of Bernadette on April 16, 1879 and his canonization on December 8, 1933, both events during the life of Carrel, along with extraordinary signs that succeeded there, made Lourdes one of the main destinations of Catholic pilgrimage in the world. The healing of Marie Bailly in Lourdes was accredited by Alexis Carrel himself, after his active participation with the patient, which led to the crisis of Carrel’s skepticism.

Posthumous acknowledgments

  • In 1972, the Swedish postal office honored Alexis Carrel with a postage stamp that was part of his “Nobel stamp series”.
  • In 1979, the lunar crater “Carrel” was named as a tribute to its scientific advances.
  • In February 2002, the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, USA, established the Lindbergh-Carrel Prize as part of the celebrations for the centennial of Charles Lindbergh’s birthday , with whom Carrel developed scientific collaborations.


  1. Back to top↑ Biography of Alexis Carrel (1873-1944) . .
  2. ↑ Jump to:a b c d e f Comroe, JH (1978). «Who was Alexis who». American Review of Respiratory Disease 118: 391-402.
  3. ↑ Jump to:a b c d Edwards, WS; Edwards, DP (1974). Alexis Carrel, Visionary Surgeon . Charles C. Thomas, Publisher Ltd (Springfield, IL). P. 143. ISBN  9780398031305 .
  4. Back to top↑ Carrel, A. (1902). “The technique of anastomoses vasculaires et la transplantation des viscères”. Lyon médical 98 : 859-864.
  5. Back to top↑ Carrel, Alexis (1970). Trip to Lourdes, followed by fragments of the newspaper and meditations . Iberia. ISBN  9788470820434 .
  6. Back to top↑ Matas, R. (1903). “An operation for the radical cure of aneurism based upon arteriorrhaphy”. Annals of Surgery 37 : 161-196.
  7. Back to top↑ Carrel, A., Guthrie, CC (1906). ‘Uniterminal and biterminal venous transplantations.’ Surg. Gynecol. Obstet. 2 : 266-286.
  8. Back to top↑ Carrel, A. (1910). Latent life of arteries. Journal of Experimental Medicine 12 : 460-486.
  9. Back to top↑ Carrel, A. (1912). ‘The preservation of tissues and their applications in surgery’. Journal of the American Medical Association 59 : 523-527.
  10. Back to top↑ Carrel, A., Guthrie, CC (1905). ‘The transplantation of veins and organs’. Am. Med. 10 : 1101-1102.
  11. Back to top↑ Carrel, A. (1907). «The surgery of blood vessels, etc.». Bull. Johns Hopkins Hosp. 18 : 18-28.
  12. Back to top↑ Carrel, A., Dakin, H., Daufresne, J., Dehelly, P., Dumas, M. (1915). ‘Traitement abortif de l’infection des plaies’. Bull. Acad. Med. Paris 74 : 361-368.