Alexis Carrel's Career at the Rockefeller Institute

Jan 01, 2011 | by
  • Description

I was pleased to be awarded a Grant-in-Aid from the Rockefeller Archive Center (RAC) to study the Center's archival holdings on Alexis Carrel (1873-1944), who worked at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research (RIMR) from 1906 to 1939. The object of my study at the RAC from May 5 to May 26, 2011, was to take a fresh look at the considerable primary sources relating to his life and works, and the visit was a rewarding one. Carrel had a varied career and his high-profile life as an eminent scientist and controversialist has not been ignored: there are a number of accounts of his life and works, though these are of variable quality. Highlights of his career include his pioneering experimental blood vessel surgery and the organ transplantation for which he gained a Nobel Prize in 1912. By that time he had moved into tissue culture and further fame and his famous "immortal" chicken heart cells, which allegedly survived in culture until the 1940s, regularly caught public attention. He ran an innovative research hospital in France in World War One, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation (RF), and then he resumed work at the RIMR. The 1920s were a mysterious phase in his life and the many accounts of his life are silent on this period. He became prominent again in the mid-1930s with a best-selling popular science book Man the Unknown (1935), which showed some eugenic leanings and conservative views. His celebrity increased when he brought Charles Lindbergh into his laboratory to assist with the design and operation of an organ perfusion pump. In his 2 final years, shortly after retirement, he worked in Occupied France as head of a research institute in Paris. This was funded by the Vichy government and there were allegations of collaboration by Carrel with the Nazis.