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Thumbnail of Alphonse Laveran
Alphonse Laveran
(18 Jun 1845 - 18 May 1922)

French physician, pathologist and parasitologist.


Photo of Alphonse Laveran with white goatee beard and pince-nez spectacles, head and shoulders, facing right.
(BBC Hulton Picture Library)
Alphonse Laveran

Alphonse (Charles Louis) Laveran was born 18 Jun 1845 in Paris, France. His father was the physician Louis Théodore Laveran, and Alphonse also took up military medicine as profession. He obtained his medical degree from University of Strasbourg, Germany, and began a long and distinguished career as a physician, pathologist and parasitologist.

He began as an army surgeon in the Franco-German War (1870-71). By 1874, he was appointed as professor of military medicine and epidemic diseases at the military college of Val de Grâce (1874-78, 1884-94).

In Algeria, 1879-83, Laveran began his research at the military hospital of Bône. At the outset, he only set himself the task of explaining the role of the particles of black pigment found in the blood of people suffering from malaria. After 1850, when these particles, called melanins, were discovered, methods had been discussed of determining whether they were only to be found in patients suffering from malaria, or were present in other diseases as well.

By careful observation viewing blood slides under a microscope, Laveran discovered that it was a parasite in red blood cells that causes human malaria (1880). Laveran later showed that the parasites, during their development in the red blood corpuscles, destroy them; and the red pigment in the corpuscles is changed into the melanin particles.

The new parasite discovered by Laveran was not a bacterium. Although it was impossible to classify accurately, certain resemblances to other micro-organisms put it in the same group as the protozoa.

Drawing of a mosquito on a skin surface sucking blood

From extensive negative results searching for the parasite in samples of water, soil, and air, Laveran hypothesized that the marsh-fever parasite must undergo one phase of its development in mosquitoes, and be inoculated into humans by their bites. He made an analogy with Manson's mosquito-borne mode of transmission of the Filaria worm.

When Laveran was recalled from Algeria to Paris, and so forced to interrupt his work on malaria, he had already clearly formulated the problems that had first to be solved in this field. He then tried to solve them by an indirect approach, by studying animal parasites. Parasites of birds had only recently been discovered and showed resemblances to the malarial parasites.

Photo of stamp issued by Algeria (4 Jan 1953) showing Nobel Prize winner, Alphonse Laveran
Stamp issued on 4 Jan 1953 by Algeria, featuring Alphonse Laveran (source)

He became the founder of the medical field of protozoology doing important work on other protozoal diseases, including sleeping-sickness and kala-azar. Laveran's careful studies, more than anyone else, extended the understanding of the finer points of the morphology, biology, and pathological activity of the parasites. He published his discoveries, sometimes in collaboration with other workers, in many articles and annotations, and later, in 1904, he gathered them together in one great work, thus far unique of its kind: Les trypanosomes et trypanosomiasis.

For the remainder of his life, from 1896, he was a researcher the Pasteur Institute at Paris. In 1907, Laveran founded the Laboratory of Tropical Diseases at the Pasteur Institute and founded the Société de Pathologie Exotique (1908).

In recognition of his work on the role played by protozoa in causing diseases, he received the 1907 Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine.

He died in 1922.

Laveran's published work includes Traité des fièvres palustres avec la description des microbes du paludisme (1884); and Traité des maladies et épidémies des armées (1875).

Written by Webmaster as one of the first pages for this site in Jun 1999. Sources used include some of those shown in the links below.


See also:

Nature bears long with those who wrong her. She is patient under abuse. But when abuse has gone too far, when the time of reckoning finally comes, she is equally slow to be appeased and to turn away her wrath. (1882) -- Nathaniel Egleston, who was writing then about deforestation, but speaks equally well about the danger of climate change today.
Carl Sagan Thumbnail Carl Sagan: In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. (1987) ...(more by Sagan)

Albert Einstein: I used to wonder how it comes about that the electron is negative. Negative-positive—these are perfectly symmetric in physics. There is no reason whatever to prefer one to the other. Then why is the electron negative? I thought about this for a long time and at last all I could think was “It won the fight!” ...(more by Einstein)

Richard Feynman: It is the facts that matter, not the proofs. Physics can progress without the proofs, but we can't go on without the facts ... if the facts are right, then the proofs are a matter of playing around with the algebra correctly. ...(more by Feynman)
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