So strong was the need and desire to uncover the cause of cancer, researchers often grasped at straws — and did their very best to prove their theories. From the year 1912, here is one such attempt to explain how this disease takes hold in the human body. Of course, we know much more now, and as the American Cancer Society succinctly explains, “Cancer is a complex group of diseases with many possible causes.”

Photographic proof of the cancer germ
Photographic proof of the cancer germ

Photographic proof of the cancer germ

Dr Gaston Odin, of Paris, tells how he found in the blood of cancerous persons a concealed germ that, spreading from corpuscle to corpuscle, gradually infects the whole body

A most vital discovery concerning cancer is announced by Dr Gaston Odin, a prominent French physician, whose pathological laboratory is famous in this country.

Dr Odin announces that he has positive proof that cancer is a germ disease; that he has isolated the germ and made photographs of it.

With this article are forwarded the first complete series of photographs showing the cancer parasite in all the stages of its existence as observed by Dr Odin.

A germ disease?

In the first place, it must be understood that if cancer is proved to be a germ disease, this is a great step in the way of finding a cure for the dreadful scourge. Indeed, Dr Odin states that he has prepared a serum which appears to have curative powers, although he is not yet prepared to make a definite announcement concerning its value.

The majority of investigators hitherto have inclined to the view that cancer is not a germ disease. No one had been able to offer proof that there was a germ before Dr Odin, although many scientists believed that they had found conditions indicating the working of a germ.

Most scientists, however, inclined to the theory that cancer was caused by a misplaced ordinary body cell, which away from its natural environment grew and multiplied abnormally. The body lost the power of controlling the growth of a cell or cells away from its natural surroundings. This in the main is the theory of Cohnheim, a very noted investigator. It was only a theory.

Following this theory, other investigators have argued that the misplaced cells existed in the body from birth and lay there until some injury stirred them into activity and growth.

Now Dr Odin states positively that a germ causes the disease. It is not a bacterium, such as causes typhoid fever and the majority of germ diseases, but a minute form of animal life called a protozoan. It belongs to the same order as the parasite which causes malaria.

The shapes of the germ

In beginning his research, Dr Odin argued that cancer was a germ disease because it spreads rapidly to various parts of the body. He argued that only a germ propagating in the blood could produce the results which are commonly seen in cancer. To test this theory, he watched the blood of cancerous persons. He saw misshapen red blood corpuscles. He saw strange bodies leave the much misshapen corpuscles and take various forms like many-leaved clovers, sword hilts, racquets, letter H’s and crosses. He saw these many shaped bodies pass into fresh red corpuscles and these in turn became after a considerable time misshapen.

Again new bodies passed out of the red corpuscles, took various forms and passed into other corpuscles.

In many cases, however, the movements could not be seen. The misshapen corpuscles were present, but there was no discernible activity. He then devised a reagent which stirred the germs to movement and made them betray their deadly presence. It was in the blood of a guinea pig infected with cancer that he first observed the power of the reagent to stir the germs to motion, but he later observed the same phenomenon in the blood of cancerous persons. He now felt convinced that he had discovered the cause of cancer and its method of propagation. The reason why investigators had hitherto failed to isolate a specific germ of the disease was that the germ was usually concealed in the red corpuscles. Further confusion was caused by the circumstance that away from the corpuscles the germ took several different forms.

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Dr Odin made the announcement of his discovery of the germ before the Society of Biology, and all the medical bodies in France are now discussing his report. He will make a fuller report on the subject before the Congress of Comparative Pathology in Paris. He has yet to make known the composition of the reagent which he uses to stir the germ to activity in blood specimens and of the serum which he hopes will cure the disease.

An interview with the doctor

Your correspondent visited Dr Odin at his laboratory, No. 63 Rue Vaneau, Paris, and found him surrounded by microscopes, test tubes, blood specimens, guinea pigs, and other animals which he uses in his experiments. He is a tremendously earnest, vigorous, enthusiastic, keen-eyed man, who discusses his work without reserve, but without a trace of boasting.

“How will your discovery further the great object of curing cancer?” was one of the many questions asked.

“It was necessary to discover the specific cause of cancer before a remedy for it could be prepared,” he answered. “I have prepared a serum which I hope will cure the disease. I may say that I have proved to my own satisfaction that it eradicates the disease, but it is as yet too soon to make a positive announcement concerning it. I cannot yet make public its composition, for it would be unwise to do so until I could offer positive proof of its value.

“I have good reason myself to believe in its efficacy. While carrying on my work one day I accidentally broke a test tube containing the blood of a cancerous person. The broken glass cut my finger and the infected material in the test tube was mixed with my blood. Two days afterward I tested my blood with the reagent and found that I was inoculated with cancer. For a week I gave myself inoculations with the serum, and now the tests show that all traces of the parasite have disappeared.

“I propose to go even further than this curative serum. I am now at work on a vaccine, which when injected into a person will, I believe, insure him against the possibility of the disease. Cancer is increasing with such terrible rapidity that it seems likely that it will be desirable to protect everybody against it, just as we are all vaccinated as a defense against smallpox.”

An excerpt of the report

Dr Odin furnished your correspondent with a copy of his brief report to the Society of Biology, which is the only official report he has made. It reads as follows:

“In a communication to the Society of Biology on June 22 last I stated the results of my earlier researches on the blood of cancerous persons. I then said that cancer was a disease that gradually spreads through the blood, and I stated that if it was caused by a microbe it would be found in the blood. Experiments at that time seemed to show that I was right. I had then examined one hundred and fifty specimens of blood from different persons, among them seventy nine cases of epithelioma (cancer of the skin). These showed the invariable presence of growths having the form of amoeba and showing the characteristic amoeboid movements.

“The further study of this question now enables me to present to you further information on the form of the organism which I first observed.

“I took the blood of a cancerous person, and placed a specimen of it on a microscopic slide. I observed the presence of a great number of little forms having the shape of horse chestnuts with their shells on. These forms appeared sometimes fixed on the red corpuscles of the blood, and sometimes in a free state in the blood serum. What struck me most when I first examined them under the microscope were the movements they made. Each of the knobs on the chestnut-like form seemed to correspond to a kernel. There were a large number of like shapes that were larger than those of the kernels in each microbe. The chestnut red corpuscles. These curious forms were constantly turning over and moving from one spot to another.

“When I placed on the microscope slide a chemical reagent which I had prepared I observed after a certain time that a number of red corpuscles seemed to have increased, while the chestnut-like form remained the same. The explanation was that the germs had detached themselves from the red corpuscles. At the end of a few minutes I saw the germs beginning to move more rapidly, then increase in size and finally send out protoplasmic feelers in the manner of an amoeba.

“As the microbes were growing they took certain forms with a remarkable regularity. These forms were like leaves with 4, 5 or 6 leaflets, or like tennis racquets, or like crosses, or like the letter “H,” with unequal legs.

“In addition to these forms, I discovered spherical forms resembling the bodies which Dr Laveran has described as causing malaria. The spherical bodies which I observed presented a number of arms, flagella. I observed 4, 6, 9 and arms in different cases. At certain moments these arms would detach themselves from the spherical body and move through the preparation with a snake-like motion. Sometimes indeed, one end of the arm would swell up like the head of a serpent. Each of the arms possessed power of movement by itself independent of the spherical body.

“I am satisfied now that in cancer we have to deal with an organism that attaches itself to the red corpuscles, they may also be found in a free state in the plasma of the blood. We are in presence of a protozoan of the family of haemazoa. This parasite I propose to call Hamamoeba neoformans (blood amoeba which forms new tissue).

“It follows from what I have just said that analysis of the human blood containing the bodies described above would enable the physician to diagnose cancer with certainty in any person whose blood shows these bodies.”

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The response from the medical profession

“Has the medical world passed a judgment on your discovery?” was asked.

“I have not yet laid all my results before my colleagues,” he answered, “but so far reception has been most encouraging. I arranged with Professor Matruchot of the Sorbonne, for a test of my reagent, which decides the presence of cancer in the blood.

“Eight test tubes — five containing blood from cancerous persons and three that of normal persons – were prepared at the School of Medicine in Paris by Dr Hart, the well-known specialist.

“The tubes were numbered and accompanied by a sealed envelope described their contents, and were placed in Professor Matruchot’s hands. I then proceeded to an examination before my colleagues and was able to recognize every case by the reagent, whether the blood was from a cancerous person or not.

“I made a second demonstration at the School of Medicine, and obtained similar results. Professor Matruchot was quite enthusiastic about the work.

“One of the great things which I expect to accomplish is to relieve a sufferer from the terrible uncertainty which weighs on him. If a man has a tumor the reagent will show positively whether it is a cancer or not.

“If he has the disease then will begin the curative treatment. The tumor will first be removed and a few days after the operation the serum will be injected. Even after the germs have disappeared, injections will be given at long intervals as a precaution.

“I do not expect to cure persons whose blood is saturated with the germs, but whom it is not too badly infected I feel confident of the efficacy of the serum.”

In the photographs which Dr Odin has taken the microbes are magnified. These photographs are perhaps the strongest evidence that he can offer support of his claim that cancer is a germ disease. Here are specimens of the blood of unquestionably cancerous persons, and from the photographs it can be seen that a remarkable and entirely abnormal process is taking place in the blood.

Dr Odin has prepared moving picture films of the germs so that it will be possible to show them in actual movement and development on the screen.


About this story

Source publication: The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, Utah)

Source publication date: September 29, 1912

Filed under: 1910s, Discoveries & inventions, Health & medicine

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