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Alexis Carrel (1873-1944)
Alexis Carrel (1873-1944)

Carrel was a French surgeon, biologist and eugenicist who worked mostly in New York at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research. His research included experimental surgery and transplantation of tissues and whole organs. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1912.

Carrel’s experimental work influenced transplant surgery. In 1915, with the English biochemist Henry Dakin, he developed a technique to deliver an antiseptic solution which had been developed by Dakin. He also developed a glass perfusion pump in 1935 with the famous aviator Charles Lindbergh, which was a forerunner of later developments in artificial hearts. His suturing techniques were also used by surgeons in later transplant surgery.

Alexis Carrel gained a reputation for bizarre experiments after lurid newspaper reports claimed that his laboratory contained jars with beating hearts and whole functioning organs. Carrel’s insistence on his research staff wearing black clothing and masks, combined with the black walls of his laboratory, only added to the air of mystery and menace and served to fuel the public’s interest.

Recently, Carrel’s interest in eugenics has started to be re-examined, with some historians questioning his possible influence on the deaths of thousands of patients with mental health problems under the French wartime Vichy regime, with which he served. They argue that this policy was inspired by Carrel’s advocacy of eugenics.

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