Childhood & Early Life
He was born on June 18, 1845, at Boulevard Saint-Michel in Paris, France to Dr. Louis Théodore Laveran and Marie-Louise Anselme Guénard de la Tour Laveran as their only son among two children.
His father was an army doctor and his mother was from a family of high-ranking army officers, thus a military environment prevailed around him since childhood.
Due to his father’s service, his family moved to Algeria when he was five. They returned to Paris in 1856 when his father joined the military medical school of Paris, ‘Ecole de Val-de-Grâce’, as a Professor and eventually became director, holding the position of Army Medical Inspector.
He completed his higher education from two private schools, first attending ‘Collège Saint Barbe’ and thereafter ‘Lycée Louis-le-Grand’.
Laveran wished to follow his father’s footsteps into medicine and in this pursuit he applied and got enrolled at the Public Health School at Strasbourg in 1863. He was inducted as a resident medical student in the Strasbourg civil hospital in 1866 and in 1867 earned his medical degree from the ‘University of Strasbourg’ by submitting a thesis on the regeneration of nerves.
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Initially he was inducted in the French Army as a physician. Eventually he became a Medical Assistant-Major by which time the 1870 Franco-Prussian War broke out.
He witnessed several major battles as an ambulance officer including the devastating siege of Metz, where he was posted. He also faced brief incarceration by the Germans.
When the French were defeated and eventually surrendered Metz, which was occupied by the Germans, he relocated to hospitals at Lille. Thereafter he moved to Paris and served at the ‘St Martin Hospital’ (at present ‘St Martin's House’).
He qualified in a competitive exam surpassing other physicians in 1874 and was thereby inducted for a term till 1878 to the ‘Chair of Military Diseases and Epidemics’ at the ‘École de Val-de-Grâce’, a post that his father held at some point of time.
Thereafter he was sent to Algeria where he worked in military hospitals till 1883 in the cities of Bône and Constantine (Qusantînah) respectively. While serving in military hospitals of the two cities he came across wards full of malaria patients. French military recruits were also getting into the clutches of this potentially fatal tropical disease.
He started collecting soil samples and blood samples of patients to conduct cultures and did autopsies to find the probable cause of the disease.
During one such effort, in November 1880, he examined the parasites in a blood smear, collected from a patient who succumbed to malaria, under a high-powered microscope. He observed a moving organism with long filaments scurrying through the blood sample, which no bacterium would do.
This was the time he discovered that the causative organism responsible for malaria was a single-celled microbe called protozoan, which consisted of a nucleus and possessed certain characteristics similar to higher orders of animals, like ability to move and consume other organic matters. He named the protozoan ‘Oscillaria malariae’, which was later renamed as ‘Plasmodium’.
He published an article regarding his findings which was titled ‘A new parasite found in the blood of malarial patients. Parasitic origin of malarial attacks.’ His findings were not accepted initially when other scientists emphasised on their observation of a malaria bacterium or Bacillus malariae. However several experiments conducted over years in the early 1880s started to validate his observations.
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After considerable studies of soil, water and air of the places infested with malaria, he presumed that the infection was transmitted by mosquitoes. He placed his hypothesis in a new ‘Treatise on Malarial Fevers’ and sent it to the ‘International Congress on Hygiene’ at Budapest in Hungary, in the form of a report. Again his ideas faced initial rejection, but later observations and experiments of British researcher Ronald Ross reiterated that the Plasmodium parasite indeed develop in mosquitoes and the infection was transmitted by mosquito bites.
He served at the ‘École de Val-de-Grâce’ from 1884 to 1889 as ‘Professor of Military Hygiene’. ‘French Academy of Sciences’ bestowed upon him the ‘Brént Prize’ in 1889.
He became the ‘Chief Medical Officer’ of the military hospital at Lille in 1894 and thereafter served the ‘11th Army Corps’ at Nantes as ‘Director of Health Services’.
He was inducted as the ‘Chief of the Honorary Service’ at the ‘Pasteur Institute’ in 1896, where he headed a research lab and pursued studies and researches on tropical diseases. Later after receiving the ‘Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine’, he donated half of ‘Nobel Prize’ money to set up ‘Laboratory of Tropical Medicine’ at the institute.
Over the next decade he researched extensively on trypanosomes, unicellular parasitic flagellate protozoa, which exist inside insects, delving into the part these protozoa play in many serious diseases like ‘African Sleeping Sickness’, also called trypanosomiasis.
In 1907 he co-founded the ‘Société de Pathologie Exotique’ and served as its President till 1920. He also remained member, honorary member and associate of many important scientific and learned societies of several countries including US, France, Italy, Belgium, Russia, Hungary and England.
In 1920 he was elected President of the ‘French Academy of Medicine’.
Major books by Laveran include ‘Traité des maladies et épidémies des armées’ (1875); ‘Nature parasitaire des accidents de l'impaludisme, description d'un nouveau parasite trouvé dans le sang des malades atteints de fièvre palustre’ (1881); ‘Traité des fièvres palustres avec la description des microbes du paludisme’ (1884); and ‘Trypanosomes et Trypanosomiases’ (1904).