Alphonse Laveran Biography (1845-1922)


Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran was born on June 18, 1845, into a military family in Paris. He was the second child and only son of Louis-Theodore Laveran,a career military physician, and Marie-Louise Anselme Guénard de la Tour Laveran. Laveran received his secondary education at the College Sainte-Barbe and the Lycée Louis-le-Grand. In 1863, he entered the military medical school at Strasbourg, which his father had also attended; Laveran graduated in 1867. He joined the military medical service following graduation andsaw active duty during the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-1871. In 1874, he wonby competitive examination an appointment to a professorship earlier held byhis father at the École du Val-de-Grace, a military medical school inParis. This was a temporary appointment, and at its conclusion in 1878 he was sent to the military hospital at Bône (now Annaba) in Algeria.

It was while at Bône that Laveran began a careful study of malaria, common in many parts of Algeria, in an effort to learn its cause. He set up a small laboratory and with the primitive, low-powered microscope available to him, he spent much time examining blood samples from malaria patients both living and deceased. His studies were briefly interrupted when he was transferredto Biskra, Algeria, where malaria was rare, but they were resumed when he moved on to Constantine, also in Algeria. There, on November 6, 1880, he firstobserved under the microscope circular and cylindrical bodies which had moving filaments, or flagella. This confirmed his earlier suspicion that malaria was caused by living animal cells, minute single-celled creatures called protozoa, which acted as parasites in the human body. The particular protozoan which Laveran had discovered to be the cause of malaria later came to be calledplasmodium.

Laveran's discovery was presented to the Academy of Medicine in Paris on November 23, 1880. A second paper, based upon further research, was published bythe Société Médicale des Hopitaux on December 24 of thatyear. In 1881, Laveran published a brief monograph, Nature parasitaire des accidents de l'impaludisme, which provided more details of his findings. Laveran's conclusions were not immediately accepted by other scientists studying malaria.

Laveran, however, continued his research, examining the blood of hundreds ofmalaria patients, both in Algeria and in Italy. By 1884, in a personal microscopic demonstration, he was able to persuade Louis Pasteur that his theory was correct. Other noted scientists such as William Osler were convincedduring the course of the 1880s. Also in 1884, Laveran published a book, Traité des fièvres palustres avec la description des microbes dupaludisme, which summarized all of his research on malaria. In this work, he revealed his suspicion that the malaria protozoa were nurtured and transmitted to human beings by some species of mosquito. It remained for the British physician, Ronald Ross, working in India in the late l890s, to prove that the malaria parasite was indeed transmitted by the Anopheles mosquito.

Laveran returned to Paris from Algeria in 1883 and became professor of military hygiene at the École du Val-de-Grace in 1884. He married Sophie Marie Pidancet in 1885. He resigned from the military medical service in December of 1896 and accepted a position at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. There hepursued his research for the rest of his life.

Laveran's demonstration that protozoa, as well as bacteria, could be the causes of disease in both human beings and animals led many other researchers into the field. Laveran himself did much significant work on disease-causing parasites. He was especially concerned with the trypanosome family of protozoa,one of which is the cause of the disease trypanosomiasis, or African sleepingsickness, transmitted by the tsetse fly. He also studied the trypanosome responsible for another tropical disease, kala azar, or dumdum fever. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1907 for his work on all disease-causingprotozoa. He used half of the prize money to establish a laboratory for research on tropical diseases at the Pasteur Institute.

Laveran was honored with membership in the French Academy of Sciences in 1901. The French government made him a Commander of the Legion of Honor in 1912.During World War I he served on several committees concerned with preservingthe health of French soldiers, and he served as president of the Academy of Medicine in 1920. He died after a short illness on May 18, 1922.

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