Charles Richet

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Paris, France
Birth Sign
Paris, France

In 1913, Charles Robert Richet, a French physiologist, was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for his study on the life-threatening allergic reaction anaphylaxis. Richet was also a renowned pathologist, bacteriologist, and statistician in the medical field. His additional research interests include the physiology of respiration and digestion, body heat control, epilepsy, and parapsychology. He contributed to the clarification of difficulties such as asthma, hay fever, and a variety of other allergic reactions induced by foreign material exposure, as well as the analysis and clarification of situations involving toxicity and sudden deaths that were previously unfathomable. He was a member of the ‘Académie des Sciences and the ‘Society for Psychical Research in the United Kingdom. He became honorary president of the ‘Institut Métapsychique International’ in Paris, then full-time president. He was also a big fan of art and literature, and he was a well-known playwright, novelist, and poet. He was also fascinated by hypnosis and extrasensory experience. For more than two decades, he was editor of the scientific publication ‘Revue Scientifique’ and co-editor of the ‘Journal de Physiologie et de Pathologie Générale.’ In 1926, he was awarded the ‘Cross of the Legion of Honour.’

Childhood and Adolescence

Alfred Richet and Eugenie, née Renouard, had him on August 26, 1850, in Paris. His father was a Clinical Surgery Professor at the Paris Faculty of Medicine.

In 1869, he got his Doctor of Medicine degree after finishing his studies in Paris.
He was interested in literature as a child, and anytime he became bored with anatomy and surgery, he would write poetry and drama.

He assisted surgeons Aristide Auguste Stanislas Verneuil and Léon Clément le Fort as a student.
He became an intern des hôpitaux at the ‘Salpêtrière’ hospital in Paris in 1872 while still a student. Richet was sent to a female ward, where he observed French neurologist Jean-Marie Charcot’s work on hysterical patients.

Following his observation of the hypnotic trials, he became interested in the subject and went on to generate many hypnotic trances in his patients over the next few years. These tests and knowledge are likely to have persuaded him to choose a career in physiology rather than surgery. He was the one who invented the phrase “metapsychism.”

The career of Charles Richet

He worked in the labs of Pierre Eugène Marcellin Berthelot and Étienne Jules Marey at the ‘Collège de France’ from 1876 to 1882, and then in Edmé Félix Alfred Vulpian’s lab at the ‘Faculty of Medicine’ after that. He conducted histological research in Charles Philippe Robin’s laboratory. He investigated fish digestion at a Paul Bert-directed marine biological station.

In 1878, he was awarded the title of Doctor of Sciences. He demonstrated in his doctoral thesis that sensory nerves without blood supply perish slowly from the periphery to the center.
He was the editor of the scientific publication ‘Revue Scientifique’ from 1878 to 1902.

He duplicated the studies on human digestion carried out by William Beaumont, the “Father of Gastric Physiology” in the United States.

He spent years researching body heat and the role of the central nervous system in temperature regulation. He looked at the thermoregulation system in homoiothermic animals. Prior to Richet’s research on shivering owing to temperature and polypnoea between 1885 and 1895, nothing was known about the techniques used by animals without cutaneous transpiration to protect themselves from overheating and to warm up from a chilly state.

He was a Professor of Physiology in the Faculty of Medicine at the ‘Collège de France’ in Paris from 1887 to 1927.
In November 1888, while working on medicines, he demonstrated that immunizing animals’ blood against an infection prevents infection, and he applied this theory to tuberculosis. He performed the first serotherapeutic injection on a human person on December 6, 1890. In addition, he demonstrated in 1900 that dogs with tuberculosis could be treated by feeding them raw meat and milk.

In 1888, he and Jules Héricourt analyzed a dog’s epithelial tumor and discovered a novel staphylococcus bacterium. They used the traditional technique used since renowned French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur’s experiment with poultry cholera to generate a pure culture of the bacteria.

During his research, he discovered that a dog injected with sea anemone (Actinia) toxin could withstand the antigen. However, the dog developed anaphylaxis after receiving a second dose three weeks later.

Thus, in 1902, he invented the term ‘aphylaxis’ for the life-threatening allergic reaction, where ‘a’ signifies without and ‘phylaxis’ denotes protection when detrimental and fatal responses arose from second antigen exposure rather than causing prophylaxis, or prevention. Anaphylaxis was later coined as a replacement term.

Apart from his core interest in physiology, he had a wide range of hobbies. Étienne-Jules Marey’s investigations on avian flight piqued his interest in aviation, and he collaborated with French engineer Victor Tatin between 1890 and 1897. He aided and sponsored Louis Charles Bréguet in the development of the ‘gyroplane Bréguet-Richet,’ the world’s first helicopter, which went to the skies on September 29, 1907.

He was fascinated with hypnosis and extrasensory perception, and he and Dr. Dariex founded the ‘Annales des Sciences Psychiques’ in 1891. Many notable spiritists and occultists of the day, such as Gabriel Delanne and Albert von Schrenck-Notzing, surrounded him.

He was elected to the ‘Académie de Médecine’ in 1898.
In 1901, he demonstrated that lowering the sodium chloride level in the diet improves the efficacy of potassium bromide for epileptic therapy, lowering the therapeutic dose from 10 g to 2 g.

In 1905, he was elected president of the Society for Psychical Research in the United Kingdom. Richet invented the word “ectoplasm” after experimenting with people including William Eglinton, Elisabeth D’Espérance, and Eva Carrière.

In 1907, he began to build a broad hypothesis of anaphylaxis based on his and his colleagues’ data. His anaphylaxis study contributed to the understanding of disorders such as asthma and allergic rhinitis, as well as other allergic reactions to foreign substances. The research also assisted in the explanation of other previously unsolved cases involving intoxication and sudden death.

In 1914, he was accepted into the ‘Académie des Sciences.’
He was named co-editor of the ‘Journal de Physiologie et de Pathologie Générale’ in 1917. He authored numerous publications on physiology, experimental pathology, pathological psychology, normal psychology, physiological chemistry, and several research studies done in the physiological lab of the Faculty of Medicine in Paris.

In 1919, he was elected honorary president of the ‘Institut Métapsychique International’ in Paris, and in 1929, he was elected full-time president.

‘Treatise on Metapsychics,’ published in 1922, ‘Our Sixth Sense,’ published in 1928, and ‘The Great Hope,’ published in 1933, are some of his para scientific writings.

He was a huge fan of literature and wrote multiple history books, several of which were published under the alias Charles Epheyre. In addition, he wrote poems, dramas, novels, and intellectual works.

Achievements & Awards

In 1913, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine.

Personal History and Legacy

In 1877, he married Amélie Aubry, and the pair had five boys and two daughters.
He died on the 4th of December, 1935, in Paris. At the time of his death, he was 85 years old.

Estimated Net Worth

The estimated net worth of Charles Richet is unknown.