Louis Pasteur : biography
Beverage contamination led Pasteur to the idea that micro-organisms infecting animals and humans cause disease. He proposed preventing the entry of micro-organisms into the human body, leading Joseph Lister to develop antiseptic methods in surgery.
In 1865, two parasitic diseases called pébrine and flacherie were killing great numbers of silkworms at Alais (now Alès). Pasteur worked several years proving that these diseases were caused by a microbe attacking silkworm eggs, and that eliminating the microbe in silkworm nurseries would eradicate the disease.
Pasteur also discovered anaerobiosis, whereby some micro-organisms can develop and live without air or oxygen, called the Pasteur effect.
Immunology and vaccination
Pasteur’s later work on diseases included work on chicken cholera. During this work, a culture of the responsible bacteria had spoiled and failed to induce the disease in some chickens he was infecting with the disease. Upon reusing these healthy chickens, Pasteur discovered he could not infect them, even with fresh bacteria; the weakened bacteria had caused the chickens to become immune to the disease, though they had caused only mild symptoms.
His assistant, Charles Chamberland (of French origin), had been instructed to inoculate the chickens after Pasteur went on holiday. Chamberland failed to do this, but instead went on holiday himself. On his return, the month-old cultures made the chickens unwell, but instead of the infections being fatal, as they usually were, the chickens recovered completely. Chamberland assumed an error had been made, and wanted to discard the apparently faulty culture when Pasteur stopped him. Pasteur guessed the recovered animals now might be immune to the disease, as were the animals at Eure-et-Loir that had recovered from anthrax.
In the 1870s, he applied this immunization method to anthrax, which affected cattle, and aroused interest in combating other diseases.
Pasteur publicly claimed he had made the anthrax vaccine by exposing the bacilli to oxygen. His laboratory notebooks, now in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris, in fact show Pasteur used the method of rival Jean-Joseph-Henri Toussaint, a Toulouse veterinary surgeon, to create the anthrax vaccine. This method used the oxidizing agent potassium dichromate. Pasteur’s oxygen method did eventually produce a vaccine but only after he had been awarded a patent on the production of an anthrax vaccine.
The notion of a weak form of a disease causing immunity to the virulent version was not new; this had been known for a long time for smallpox. Inoculation with smallpox was known to result in far less scarring, and greatly reduced mortality, in comparison with the naturally acquired disease. Edward Jenner had also discovered vaccination using cowpox to give cross-immunity to smallpox in 1796, and by Pasteur’s time this had generally replaced the use of actual smallpox material in inoculation. The difference between smallpox vaccination and anthrax or chicken cholera vaccination was that the weakened form of the latter two disease organisms had been "generated artificially", so a naturally weak form of the disease organism did not need to be found. This discovery revolutionized work in infectious diseases, and Pasteur gave these artificially weakened diseases the generic name of "vaccines", in honour of Jenner’s discovery. Pasteur produced the first vaccine for rabies by growing the virus in rabbits, and then weakening it by drying the affected nerve tissue.
The rabies vaccine was initially created by Emile Roux, a French doctor and a colleague of Pasteur who had been working with a killed vaccine produced by desiccating the spinal cords of infected rabbits. The vaccine had been tested only on 11 dogs before its first human trial. This vaccine was first used on 9-year old Joseph Meister, on July 6, 1885, after the boy was badly mauled by a rabid dog. This was done at some personal risk for Pasteur, since he was not a licensed physician and could have faced prosecution for treating the boy. After consulting with colleagues, Pasteur decided to go ahead with the treatment. Three months later Pasteur examined Meister and found that he was in good health. Pasteur was hailed as a hero and the legal matter was not pursued. The treatment’s success laid the foundations for the manufacture of many other vaccines. The first of the Pasteur Institutes was also built on the basis of this achievement.