Alexis Carrel was a French scientist and surgeon who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912 for developing the suturing procedure. He devised a vascular suturing technique that uses the fewest sutures possible, which has since become a crucial feature of numerous surgical procedures. He co-invented the first perfusion pump with Charles A. Lindbergh, which paved the way for organ transplantation. Carrel also looked into the preservation of living tissues that had been removed from the body, and in one remarkable case, he was able to keep a living culture alive for more than two decades by circulating tissue culture fluid. During the ‘Second World Combat,’ he contributed to the development of the ‘Carrel-Dakin’ method for treating war wounds, which involves the use of antiseptic fluids to avoid infection — a practice that has been widely employed since then. He was a proponent of the ‘Eugenics’ social ideology, which included a set of ideas and behaviors aimed at improving human genetic features. ‘Eugenics’ policies were promoted by the French Foundation for the Study of Human Problems, where he served as director during the Vichy regime. His suspected collaboration with the Nazis, as well as his ties to the French fascist and anti-Semitic political party ‘Parti Populaire Français,’ prompted investigations. Later in his life, he was subjected to media wrath as a result of similar claims.
Childhood and Adolescence
He was born on June 28, 1873, in the Roman Catholic family of Alexis Carrel Billiard and Anne Marie Ricard in Sainte-Foy-lès-Lyon, eastern France, as the eldest of three children. Alexis’ father was a textile producer who died when he was just five years old. His mother raised him and his siblings after their father died.
He went to a Jesuit day school and college near Lyons, where he excelled in biology. As a child, he used to dissect birds. He graduated from the ‘University of Lyons’ with a Bachelor of Letters in 1889.
He received his Bachelor of Science degree from the ‘University of Lyons’ in 1890 and went on to study medicine at the university, earning his medical degree in 1900.
From 1893 until 1900, he worked in Lyons’ hospitals, with the exception of a year when he served as a surgeon with the French army’s ‘Chasseurs Alpins.’ In 1898, he worked in the laboratory of renowned anatomist J. L. Testut.
Career of Alexis Carrel
According to Carrel’s account, he observed Marie Bailly’s miraculous healing in Lourdes in 1902, and she named him as the crucial witness to her recovery. This encounter, which changed him from a skeptic to a believer in spiritual remedies, had a negative impact on his career and reputation among his medical colleagues.
At 1903, unable to find work in a hospital and seeing little future in academic medicine in France, he moved to Montreal, Canada.
He relocated to Chicago, Illinois, in 1904 and started working at the ‘Hull Laboratory.’ In partnership with American scientist Charles Claude Guthrie, he worked on vascular suture and blood vessel and organ transplantation.
In 1905, he was accepted into the ‘Department of Physiology’ at the University of Chicago, where he worked under Professor G. N. Stewart.
He was inducted as a ‘Associate Member’ of the newly created ‘Rockefeller Institute of Medical Research’ in New York in 1906, and then as a ‘Full Member’ in 1912. He spent the rest of his career at this institute, where he did important research. He conducted important research on ’tissue culture,’ a term developed by both, in partnership with US surgeon and pathologist Montrose Thomas Burrows.
When Carrel was a young surgeon, he was involved in the assassination of French President Sadi Carnot in 1894. He witnessed the difficulties that surgeons treating the President experienced in effectively reconnecting major abdominal veins that had been severed as a result of the attack. This inspired him to come up with innovative ways to suture blood arteries. His earlier sewing instruction prompted him to employ the ‘triangulation’ technique, which is still in use today. From 1901 to 1910, he researched and created many of the procedures used in vascular surgery today, and he had great success in reuniting veins and arteries as well as executing surgical transplants. As a result of his accomplishments, he was awarded the ‘Nobel Prize’ in 1912.
He was fascinated by the process of aging, and on January 17, 1912, he began an experiment in which he placed a sample of tissue cultivated from an embryonic chicken heart in a Pyrex flask. By providing nutrition on a daily basis, he was able to keep these connective tissue cells alive for more than two decades.
Carrel was serving as a Major in the French Army Medical Corps in 1916, during the ‘First World War.’ His request for a chemist from the Rockefeller Institute was granted, and English chemist Henry Drysdale Dakin joined him at a makeshift hospital in Compiegne. The pair developed the ‘Carrel–Dakin’ approach for healing wounds based on Dakin’s solution, chlorine. Carrel was awarded the ‘Légion d’honneur’ for his efforts.
In 1924 and 1927, he was elected as an honorary member of the ‘Academy of Sciences of the USSR.’ He remained a member of a number of learned societies across the globe, including those in France, the United States, Germany, Russia, Spain, and Italy.
His book ‘L’Homme, cet inconnu’ (‘Man, The Unknown’) was released in 1935 and covered both known and unknown parts of the human body and life. It became a best-seller.
In the mid-1930s, he and Charles A. Lindbergh, a prominent American pilot, inventor, and military officer, teamed and built the first perfusion pump, which allowed vital organs to remain alive outside the body during surgery. This groundbreaking development is seen as a critical step toward organ transplantation and open-heart surgery. The first version of their book ‘The Culture of Organs’ was published on January 1, 1938, and the duo was featured on the cover of ‘Time’ magazine on June 13, the same year.
In 1937, he joined the French engineer Jean Coutrot’s ‘Centre d’Etudes des Problèmes Humains.’
In 1941, he lobbied for the establishment of the French Foundation for the Study of Human Problems, which was established by decree of the Vichy regime the same year. He was named the foundation’s regent.
Several universities have bestowed honorary doctorates on him, including New York, California, Columbia, Brown University, Princeton University, and Queen’s University of Belfast.
Major Projects of Alexis Carrel
His major contributions include work on vascular suture and organ transplantation, including the development of new methods for suturing blood vessels; significant research on “tissue culture,” the invention of the first perfusion pump, and the development of the “Carrel–Dakin” method for treating wounds.
Achievements & Awards
In 1912, he received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.
Personal History and Legacy
His marriage to Anne-Marie-Laure Gourlez de La Motte took place in 1913. She had a son and was the widow of M. de La Meyrie. Carrel and Anne didn’t have their own child.
His wife worked as a surgical nurse for him during the ‘First World War’ in 1914.
In 1939, he met Trappist monk Alexis Presse, who would have a profound influence on Carrel for the rest of his life.
Carrel requested that Presse perform the Catholic sacraments while he was dying, and he died on November 5, 1944, in Paris, France.
Estimated Net Worth
The estimated net worth of Alexis Carrel is unknown.