Charles-Louis-Alphonse Laveran was a French physician, pathologist, and medical researcher who made the ground-breaking discovery of the protozoan parasite that causes malaria, an endemic tropical disease. He named the protozoan ‘Oscillaria malariae,’ which was eventually renamed ‘Plasmodium.’ He also accurately assumed that the virus was spread by mosquitoes, which are little midge-like flies. In 1907, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for this and other groundbreaking discoveries, including the revelation that Trypanosoma, a genus of kinetoplastids, was the cause of African sleeping sickness, better known as trypanosomiasis. During the Franco-German War (1870–71), he remained an army surgeon and later served as the ‘Chair of Military Diseases and Epidemics’ at the ‘École de Val-de-Grâce.’ His most important discoveries and findings were made in Algeria, where he served as a military surgeon in the late 1870s. He was named ‘Chief of the Honorary Service’ of the ‘Pasteur Institute,’ a non-profit private foundation in France. He was elected to the ‘French Academy of Sciences’ in 1893. In 1907, he co-founded the ‘Société de Pathologie Exotique’ (exotic pathology society). In 1912, he was given the rank of Commander of the ‘National Order of the Legion of Honour.’
Childhood and Adolescence
He was born on June 18, 1845, as the only son of Dr. Louis Théodore Laveran and Marie-Louise Anselme Guénard de la Tour Laveran on Boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris, France. His father was an army doctor, and his mother came from a family of high-ranking army commanders, thus he grew up in a military milieu. His family moved to Algeria when he was five years old because of his father’s military service. They returned to Paris in 1856, when his father became a Professor at the ‘Ecole de Val-de-Grâce,’ a military medical school in Paris, and later became the director, holding the rank of Army Medical Inspector.
He received his higher education from two private schools: the ‘Collège Saint Barbe’ and the ‘Lycée Louis-le-Grand.’
Laveran aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps into medicine, and in 1863 he applied to and was accepted into Strasbourg’s Public Health School. In 1866, he was accepted as a resident medical student at the Strasbourg public hospital, and in 1867, he graduated from the ‘University of Strasbourg’ with a thesis on nerve regeneration.
Initially, he was enlisted as a surgeon in the French Army. By the time the Franco-Prussian War broke out in 1870, he had advanced to the rank of Medical Assistant-Major. As an ambulance officer, he observed several significant battles, including the horrific siege of Metz, where he was stationed. He was also briefly imprisoned by the Germans.
He relocated to Lille hospitals after the French were defeated and eventually surrendered Metz, which was captured by the Germans. Following that, he relocated to Paris and worked at the ‘St Martin Hospital’ (now known as ‘St Martin’s House’).
In 1874, he passed a competitive exam, beating off other physicians, and was thus appointed to the ‘Chair of Military Diseases and Epidemics’ at the ‘École de Val-de-Grâce,’ a position that his father had previously held. Following that, he was moved to Algeria, where he worked in military hospitals in Bône and Constantine (Qusantînah) until 1883. He came encountered wards full of malaria victims while serving at military hospitals in both cities. This potentially lethal tropical sickness was also catching hold of French military recruits.
He began collecting soil samples and blood samples from patients in order to conduct cultures and autopsies in order to determine the disease’s likely etiology. In November 1880, he used a high-powered microscope to study parasites in a blood smear recovered from a patient who died of malaria. He noticed a moving organism with long filaments scurrying across the blood sample, which was unlike any bacterium.
This was the time he found that the malaria-causing organism was a protozoan, a single-celled microorganism with a nucleus and traits similar to higher animal orders, such as the ability to move and devour organic substances. The protozoan was given the name ‘Oscillaria malariae,’ which was eventually changed to ‘Plasmodium.’ He wrote an essay titled ‘A novel parasite detected in the blood of malarial patients’ about his discoveries. Malaria attacks have a parasitic origin.’ When other scientists emphasized their observation of a malaria bacterium or Bacillus malariae, his findings were first dismissed. Several studies carried out over several years in the early 1880s, however, began to validate his findings.
After conducting extensive research into the soil, water, and air of malaria-infested areas, he concluded that the disease was spread by mosquitoes. He published his hypothesis in a new ‘Treatise on Malarial Fevers’ and submitted it as a report to the ‘International Congress on Hygiene’ in Budapest, Hungary. His theories were first dismissed, but further observations and experiments by British researcher Ronald Ross confirmed that the Plasmodium parasite does indeed develop in mosquitos and that the infection is spread by mosquito bites.
From 1884 to 1889, he worked as a ‘Professor of Military Hygiene’ at the ‘École de Val-de-Grâce.’ In 1889, the ‘French Academy of Sciences’ awarded him the ‘Brént Prize.’ In 1894, he was appointed ‘Chief Medical Officer’ of the military hospital in Lille, and then served as ‘Director of Health Services’ for the ’11th Army Corps’ in Nantes. In 1896, he was named ‘Chief of the Honorary Service’ at the ‘Pasteur Institute,’ where he ran a research lab and conducted tropical disease studies and research.
After obtaining the ‘Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine,’ he donated half of the prize money to the institute to establish the ‘Laboratory of Tropical Medicine.’ Over the next decade, he focused his research on trypanosomes, which are unicellular parasitic flagellate protozoa that live inside insects, and the role they play in disorders like ‘African Sleeping Sickness,’ also known as trypanosomiasis.
He co-founded and served as President of the ‘Société de Pathologie Exotique’ from 1907 to 1920. He was also a member, honorary member, or associate of a number of prestigious scientific and scholarly societies in the United States, France, Italy, Belgium, Russia, Hungary, and England. He was named President of the ‘French Academy of Medicine’ in 1920. ‘Traité des maladies et épidémies des armées’ (1875); ‘Nature parasitaire des accidents de l’impaludisme, description d’un nouveau parasite découvert dans le sang des malades atteints de fièvre palustre’ (1881); ‘Traité des fièvres palustres avec la description des microbes du paludisme’ (1884); and ‘Trypanosomes et Trypanos (1904).
Major Projects of Charles Louis
For the first time, Laveran discovered that a protozoan was the causal organism for malaria, mentioning protozoa as the cause of any disease. As a result, this research backed up the germ theory of disease.
Achievements & Awards
For his discoveries of protozoan parasites, which cause infectious diseases such as malaria and trypanosomiasis, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1907.
Personal History and Legacy
He married Sophie Marie Pidancet in 1885. They didn’t have any children. He died on May 18, 1922, after suffering from an unspecified disease for several months. He was interred in the ‘Cimetière du Montparnasse’ in Paris.
Estimated Net Worth
The estimated net worth of Charles Louis Alphonse Laveran is not available.