The Life and Legacy of Louis Pasteur

One of the most notable figures in the development of vaccines is Louis Pasteur. Pasteur was born on December 27, 1822 in Dole, France. During his life, Pasteur excelled as a chemist, a biologist, and a microbiologist and is remembered for his discovery of pasteurization, his efforts toward the understanding of microbial fermentation, and his initial administration of the rabies vaccine. In his early years, Pasteur was only considered an average student, and his main interests included drawing and painting. He earned both a bachelor of arts degree and a bachelor of sciences degree from the Royal College of Besançon. He also earned a doctorate degree in 1847 from the École Normale in Paris. Following several years of teaching and researching, Pasteur became a professor of chemistry at the University of Strasbourg. It was here that he met his wife, Marie Laurent, who he went on to have five children with.

Pasteur’s first major contribution to the field of chemistry concerned his study of tartaric acid. Based on the way that light was rotated as it passed through a solution of dissolved tartaric acid, Pasteur was able to propose what is now accepted as the concept of molecular chirality, as well as make the first true explanation of isomerism. Later on in 1854, Pasteur was appointed professor of chemistry and dean of the science faculty at the University of Lille. It was here that he worked on addressing the common problems with the manufacture of alcoholic drinks. Using the germ theory which had already been established, Pasteur was able to expand pre-existing concepts in order to demonstrate that organisms like bacteria were responsible for souring beer, wine, and milk. He was responsible for establishing a process by which bacteria could be removed by first boiling and then cooling the liquid. This first test was completed on April 20, 1862, and the process today is known as pasteurization. Moving onto vaccines, Pasteur made his first major discovery in this field in 1879, with a disease known as chicken cholera. In this experiment, chickens were inoculated with an attenuated culture of chicken cholera germs. The chickens survived and when Pasteur inoculated them with a virulent strain, they demonstrated immunity to the disease. Beyond this, Pasteur extended the germ theory in order to develop causes and vaccinations for several other diseases like anthrax, cholera, smallpox, and tuberculosis.

Following his success with previous vaccinations and his acceptance into the Académie Française in 1882, Pasteur began to focus his efforts on the issue of rabies. On July 6, 1885, Pasteur vaccinated Joseph Meister, a 9-year-old boy who had been bitten by a rabid dog and who would have otherwise been doomed to a near-unavoidable death. The vaccine ended up saving Meister’s life and Pasteur was hailed as a hero. It was this event that sparked interest among the public to begin a fundraising campaign in order to construct the Pasteur Institute. Fundraising began in 1887 with several countries donating to the cause. The institute was inaugurated on November 14, 1888 and served as a center of scientific research and development. After 1891, the Pasteur Institute began to extend to several more countries, and there are currently 32 institutes spanning 29 countries. Besides the many individuals saved by his research on vaccines, Pasteur’s contributions continue to benefit both the medical and pharmaceutical fields as a whole.

References:

Stern, M. A., & Markel, H. (2005). The History of Vaccines and Immunization: Familiar Patterns, New Challenges. Health Affairs, 24(3), 611-621.

Ulmann, A. (2017). Louis Pasteur: French Chemist and Microbiologist. In Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/biography/Louis-Pasteur

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