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Year : 2015  |  Volume : 2  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 28-29

Alexis Marie Joseph Auguste Carrel - Nobel Prize for Vascular Surgery and Transplantation

Department of Vascular Surgery, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Web Publication5-Mar-2015

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Indrani Sen
Department of Vascular Surgery, Christian Medical College, Vellore, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/0972-0820.152831

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How to cite this article:
Sen I, Tripathi RK. Alexis Marie Joseph Auguste Carrel - Nobel Prize for Vascular Surgery and Transplantation. Indian J Vasc Endovasc Surg 2015;2:28-9

How to cite this URL:
Sen I, Tripathi RK. Alexis Marie Joseph Auguste Carrel - Nobel Prize for Vascular Surgery and Transplantation. Indian J Vasc Endovasc Surg [serial online] 2015 [cited 2023 Jan 30];2:28-9. Available from:

In this issue, we celebrate the life and work of Alexis Carrel, the legendary French - American surgeon, scientist, biologist, and sociologist.

Alexis was born on June 28, 1873 in Sainte-Foy-les-Lyon, a village near Lyon, France. He was the eldest son of Alexis Carrel-Billiard, a textile manufacturer, and Anne-Marie Ricard. After his father's death at just four years of age, his mother undertook embroidering to support the family income. This exposure later became the foundation of his pioneering work in vascular anastomosis: Earning him the epithet of "the embroiderer Nobel laureate".

After his schooling, he enrolled in medicine at the University of Lyon in 1890 and went on to specialize in surgery. He was deeply influenced by the assassination of the then French president Mare-François-Sadi Carnot due to a stab injury to the portal vein, considered amenable to surgical repair at the time. Profoundly affected by his incident, Alexis was determined to find a new, durable method of blood vessel reconstruction.

Carrel started developing techniques of suturing blood-vessels using embroidering skills he learnt from his mother. Using tiny needles and thread on bench and then animal models, he developed anastomotic techniques. End-to-end anastomosis (turning back the ends of cut vessels before suturing: Exposing the circulating blood to only the endothelium), coating instruments, needles and thread with paraffin jelly and an aseptic technique yielded successful procedural results.

Despite these path breaking achievements, his outspoken critical attitude and socio-political views on eugenics alienated the French medical faculty toward Carrel. He moved to the Hull Laboratory at the University of Chicago to continue his experimental work on vessel surgery with his new collaborator Charles Claude Guthrie. They performed many animal solid organ transplant experiments, studying rejection problems occurring with heterografts and homografts and in the process co-authoring 21 publications!

In 1912, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine "in recognition of his work on vascular suture and the transplantation of blood-vessels and organs." He was the first physician from a surgical discipline to win this prize.

His skillful, original and futuristic contributions caught the attention of Simon Flexner, then director of the Rockefeller Institute, who invited Carrel to head organ transplantation in 1906. Subsequent progress in surgery of the heart and blood-vessels, organ transplantation, tissue culture and storage, became subsequent books.

He was drafted by the French during the first World War, where her served with his wife Anne de la Motte de Meyrie working as a nurse. His work on antisepsis and treatment of severely infected wounds with Henry Dakin earned him the Legion of Honor.

Following this he returned to the United States resuming his work at the Rockefeller Institute.

Here he met Charles Lindbergh, with whom he designed the first organ perfusion system from a pump by which a pulsatile circulation of nutrient fluid, properly oxygenated, could be maintained through an organ. This enabled organ cultivation in vitro for the first time. They made the June 13, 1938 cover of Time magazine.

He was a prolific writer and from his pen emerged "The treatment of Infected Wounds" based on his observations during World War I. His best known work "man, the unknown" prompted huge resistance and resentment in the academic world by his fascist and racist ideology of elimination of defective gene pool by "gassing" - A technique subsequently adopted by Hitler in the Nazi camps. At Rockefeller Institute, he wrote the treatise "The Culture of Organs," which was the path breaking at that time. In his older, mellowed days "Prayer, Reflections on Life" followed.

Carrel had a blunt tactlessness that created many enemies; he also had a character that attracted the love of those who knew him well. Upon his retirement, Carrel returned to his France where he got embroiled in the political turmoil of the time. He died on November 5, 1944, from myocardial infarction.

A Carrel Foundation at the Georgetown University was set up with the help of Charles Lindbergh with the objectives of advancement and diffusion of knowledge concerning science, religion, and humanity.

Indian Journal of Vascular and Endovascular Surgery acknowledge the contribution of Alexis Carrel to the fundamental foundation of vascular and transplant surgery - "the vascular anastomoses".

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