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America's First Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology: The Story of Guthrie and Carrel

America's First Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology: The Story of Guthrie and Carrel Hugh E. Stephenson, Jr, MD, professor emeritus of surgery at the University of Missouri (Columbia), and Robert S. Kimpton, MEd, a journalist, have written a compelling story about 2 gifted physicians: Alexis Carrel, a surgeon born and educated in France, and Charles Guthrie, an American holding both an MD and a PhD in physiology. These men collaborated on a series of pioneering animal studies in vascular surgery and limb and organ transplantation in the early 1900s at the University of Chicago (Chicago, Ill). The result of this landmark work was that Dr Carrel was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1912, an occurrence that gave him worldwide fame and eventually led to his becoming an almost mythic figure. By contrast, Dr Guthrie, despite being an educator and researcher of the first rank throughout his professional life, received little recognition for the work he jointly performed with Carrel. Herein lies the mission of the book: to bring long-overdue recognition to Guthrie for his strong collaborative role and to suggest that he should have been a corecipient of the Nobel Prize. The authors end their book by asking the following rhetorical questions: "Is it yet too late for rectification? . . . couldn't a duplicate Prize be awarded posthumously?" They present much evidence to support their claim. Most interesting is a review in chronological sequence of a rich correspondence between Carrel and Guthrie that has been preserved in the Cushing Collection at Yale University (New Haven, Conn) and at the University of Missouri library. Many of these letters are published in the book; they are a delight to read and reveal many facets of their relationship, including the knowledge that they were on to something big and needed to get their work published quickly before they were eclipsed by others. The authors also present examples of handwritten notes on experiments performed by these researchers and a bibliography of copublished scientific articles. Although Carrel continued to work in these fields for more than 3 decades at the Rockefeller Institute (Albany, NY), the authors attempt to show that the great bulk of work that became the foundation for Carrel's receiving the Nobel Prize was performed jointly during two 3-month periods in 1905 and 1906 at the Hull Laboratory at the University of Chicago, resulting in the publication of 21 jointly written papers. In trying to explain the striking divergence in the subsequent careers and public recognition these 2 men experienced, the authors feel that a pivotal event was a paper Carrel presented in 1906 at the Johns Hopkins Medical Society called "Surgery of the Blood Vessels." He had been invited by Harvey Cushing, and the audience included William Halsted and Claude Welch. Carrel took full credit for the work he reported and his talk was clearly a triumph, deeply impressing these 3 surgical titans. Another point the authors cite is "the vast personality difference between the 2 men: Carrel, the man driven by the lust for accreditation and power, and Guthrie, the almost excessively modest man." These characterizations of Carrel may be true, but the published correspondence between Carrel and Guthrie is, with few exceptions, courteous and deferential. In his Nobel oration, Carrel mentions Guthrie's name 6 times, albeit usually as an assistant or coworker. The late periods of these 2 men's lives were also very different. Carrel was recruited by the great Simon Flexner, who headed the Rockefeller Institute, in 1906 and did extensive work there until his mandatory retirement in 1939 at age 65 years. He returned to France, and in 1941 he accepted a position offered by the collaborationist Vichy government and remained in this position until his death 3 years later. Following the liberation of France, Carrel was accused by the press, the new French government, and former friends and colleagues of having collaborated with the Germans, and his home was placed under surveillance by the police. His death in 1944 came after a series of strokes and cardiac events. He died in despair, disillusionment, and public disgrace and was buried on the small island off the coast of Brittany that he had purchased with his Nobel Prize money and that was very dear to him. Sic transit gloria. By contrast, Guthrie continued to lead a productive, low-keyed, and traditional academic life. He left the University of Chicago to become chairman of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at Washington University in St Louis, Mo, in 1906. Later he went to the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pa), where he "taught with distinction for 40 years." He retired to the Guthrie home in Columbia, Mo, living with his sister until his death in 1963. I take some exception with the authors of this very interesting book; in their enthusiasm to bring deserved recognition to Guthrie, they have not been quite fair to Carrel. First is their characterization of the work Carrel performed with Guthrie from 1904 to1906 as the determinant in Carrel's receiving the Nobel Prize in 1912, without taking into account the remarkable work Carrel continued alone at the Rockefeller Institute from late 1906 until the time of the award in 1912. The scope of this work is best expressed by W. Sterling Edward's in his excellent and well-researched biography Alexis Carrel: Visionary Surgeon. Edwards writes that by 1910 Carrel had anticipated, among many other things, "much of modern heart surgery such as mitral valvulotomy, mitral annuloplasty, excision of ventricular aneurysms, and even direct grafting procedures for obstructive coronary artery disease."1 He also describes the relationship between Carrel and Guthrie during their collaborative period: "Carrel supplied the bulk of the imagination and energy, and performed most of the experiments." Second is their observation that Carrel's "lust for accreditation and power," self-promotion, and cultivation of noted surgeons for personal gain were major factors in his receiving the Nobel Prize, rather than it being due to the enormous body of work he achieved throughout his lifetime. Hubris and blind ambition, even if present, are insufficient to explain the brilliant career of this enormously gifted man. References 1. Edwards WS Alexis Carrel: Visionary Surgeon. Springfield, Ill Charles C. Thomas Publisher1974; http://www.deepdyve.com/assets/images/DeepDyve-Logo-lg.png Archives of Surgery American Medical Association

America's First Nobel Prize in Medicine or Physiology: The Story of Guthrie and Carrel

Archives of Surgery , Volume 137 (6) – Jun 1, 2002

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Publisher
American Medical Association
Copyright
Copyright © 2002 American Medical Association. All Rights Reserved.
ISSN
0004-0010
eISSN
1538-3644
DOI
10.1001/archsurg.137.6.750
Publisher site
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Abstract

Hugh E. Stephenson, Jr, MD, professor emeritus of surgery at the University of Missouri (Columbia), and Robert S. Kimpton, MEd, a journalist, have written a compelling story about 2 gifted physicians: Alexis Carrel, a surgeon born and educated in France, and Charles Guthrie, an American holding both an MD and a PhD in physiology. These men collaborated on a series of pioneering animal studies in vascular surgery and limb and organ transplantation in the early 1900s at the University of Chicago (Chicago, Ill). The result of this landmark work was that Dr Carrel was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1912, an occurrence that gave him worldwide fame and eventually led to his becoming an almost mythic figure. By contrast, Dr Guthrie, despite being an educator and researcher of the first rank throughout his professional life, received little recognition for the work he jointly performed with Carrel. Herein lies the mission of the book: to bring long-overdue recognition to Guthrie for his strong collaborative role and to suggest that he should have been a corecipient of the Nobel Prize. The authors end their book by asking the following rhetorical questions: "Is it yet too late for rectification? . . . couldn't a duplicate Prize be awarded posthumously?" They present much evidence to support their claim. Most interesting is a review in chronological sequence of a rich correspondence between Carrel and Guthrie that has been preserved in the Cushing Collection at Yale University (New Haven, Conn) and at the University of Missouri library. Many of these letters are published in the book; they are a delight to read and reveal many facets of their relationship, including the knowledge that they were on to something big and needed to get their work published quickly before they were eclipsed by others. The authors also present examples of handwritten notes on experiments performed by these researchers and a bibliography of copublished scientific articles. Although Carrel continued to work in these fields for more than 3 decades at the Rockefeller Institute (Albany, NY), the authors attempt to show that the great bulk of work that became the foundation for Carrel's receiving the Nobel Prize was performed jointly during two 3-month periods in 1905 and 1906 at the Hull Laboratory at the University of Chicago, resulting in the publication of 21 jointly written papers. In trying to explain the striking divergence in the subsequent careers and public recognition these 2 men experienced, the authors feel that a pivotal event was a paper Carrel presented in 1906 at the Johns Hopkins Medical Society called "Surgery of the Blood Vessels." He had been invited by Harvey Cushing, and the audience included William Halsted and Claude Welch. Carrel took full credit for the work he reported and his talk was clearly a triumph, deeply impressing these 3 surgical titans. Another point the authors cite is "the vast personality difference between the 2 men: Carrel, the man driven by the lust for accreditation and power, and Guthrie, the almost excessively modest man." These characterizations of Carrel may be true, but the published correspondence between Carrel and Guthrie is, with few exceptions, courteous and deferential. In his Nobel oration, Carrel mentions Guthrie's name 6 times, albeit usually as an assistant or coworker. The late periods of these 2 men's lives were also very different. Carrel was recruited by the great Simon Flexner, who headed the Rockefeller Institute, in 1906 and did extensive work there until his mandatory retirement in 1939 at age 65 years. He returned to France, and in 1941 he accepted a position offered by the collaborationist Vichy government and remained in this position until his death 3 years later. Following the liberation of France, Carrel was accused by the press, the new French government, and former friends and colleagues of having collaborated with the Germans, and his home was placed under surveillance by the police. His death in 1944 came after a series of strokes and cardiac events. He died in despair, disillusionment, and public disgrace and was buried on the small island off the coast of Brittany that he had purchased with his Nobel Prize money and that was very dear to him. Sic transit gloria. By contrast, Guthrie continued to lead a productive, low-keyed, and traditional academic life. He left the University of Chicago to become chairman of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at Washington University in St Louis, Mo, in 1906. Later he went to the University of Pittsburgh (Pittsburgh, Pa), where he "taught with distinction for 40 years." He retired to the Guthrie home in Columbia, Mo, living with his sister until his death in 1963. I take some exception with the authors of this very interesting book; in their enthusiasm to bring deserved recognition to Guthrie, they have not been quite fair to Carrel. First is their characterization of the work Carrel performed with Guthrie from 1904 to1906 as the determinant in Carrel's receiving the Nobel Prize in 1912, without taking into account the remarkable work Carrel continued alone at the Rockefeller Institute from late 1906 until the time of the award in 1912. The scope of this work is best expressed by W. Sterling Edward's in his excellent and well-researched biography Alexis Carrel: Visionary Surgeon. Edwards writes that by 1910 Carrel had anticipated, among many other things, "much of modern heart surgery such as mitral valvulotomy, mitral annuloplasty, excision of ventricular aneurysms, and even direct grafting procedures for obstructive coronary artery disease."1 He also describes the relationship between Carrel and Guthrie during their collaborative period: "Carrel supplied the bulk of the imagination and energy, and performed most of the experiments." Second is their observation that Carrel's "lust for accreditation and power," self-promotion, and cultivation of noted surgeons for personal gain were major factors in his receiving the Nobel Prize, rather than it being due to the enormous body of work he achieved throughout his lifetime. Hubris and blind ambition, even if present, are insufficient to explain the brilliant career of this enormously gifted man. References 1. Edwards WS Alexis Carrel: Visionary Surgeon. Springfield, Ill Charles C. Thomas Publisher1974;

Journal

Archives of SurgeryAmerican Medical Association

Published: Jun 1, 2002

References