Nobel prize winner keeps hearts alive (1912)

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Dr Alexis Carrel was the recipient of the 1912 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his development of vascular suturing techniques. This, along with his pioneering of the first perfusion pump led the way to the modern lifesaving practice of organ transplantation.

Keeps hearts alive – wins $39,000 Nobel Prize

By doing “the impossible,” Dr Alexis Carrel has brought to America its first Nobel prize of $39,000 for research in medicine.

He has kept alive for months pieces of heart tissue taken from baby chicks. Early in May last Dr. Carrel announced his discovery of prolonging heart life after removal from the body to which the heart belonged. Immediately there was great speculation in scientific circles as to whether “permanent life” might not be possible.

Other successful experiments were made with sections taken from the spleens, hearts and livers of chickens and skins of frogs. The reason for these experiments is explained by Dr. Carrel.

Nobel prize winner's way to keep hearts alive“I wish to find a method by which to store tissues during the period which elapses between their extirpation and their transplantation on the patient.

“It would be very convenient for surgeons to keep in store pieces of skin, bone, cartilage, blood vessels, peritoneum, and fat, ready to be used. I have attempted to preserve the tissue outside of the organism in a condition of latent or active life.”

Dr Carrel has a remarkable list of surgical achievements.

He has taken kidneys from two cats and exchanged them. Both cats lived, the transplanted organs performing their proper functions in their new homes.

He transplanted legs of dogs, and the dogs thrived with their “borrowed” limbs. He even transplanted dogs’ heads with sufficient success to warrant him in saying that future operations of a similar kind may be easily made.

He has kept arteries preserved in hermetically sealed tubes at a temperature a little above the freezing point and then successfully transferred them to living animals.

He has taken arteries from an amputated human leg and put them in a dog’s leg, and that dog’s blood now pours through arteries once in a human body.

Excepting in blood transfusion, Dr Carrel’s experiments have been mainly upon animals. It is said that he could, by taking various parts of different animals, build up a new living creature, but that is farthest from his plans.

“What I hope to do,” he explains, “is to make human life longer, and I experiment on animals solely with that aim.”

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Dr Carrel is a bachelor, just under 40. He was born near Lyons, France, and was graduated from the University of Lyons in 1900. In 1905, he conducted some experiments at McGill University, Montreal. Then the Chicago university heard of the wonderful young surgeon and “annexed” him.

In 1909 he shifted to the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York City.


Photo: Dr Alexis Carrel, date unknown, courtesy LOC

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