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Carrel, Alexis

blood methods surgeon world

(1873–1944) French–US surgeon: pioneer of vascular surgery and perfusion methods.

Carrel qualified in medicine at Lyons in 1900. He was a skilful surgeon, but lacked interest in routine surgery and in 1904 visited Canada, intending to become a cattle rancher. However, later in 1904 he moved to Chicago and in 1906 joined the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research in New York. He remained there until retirement in 1939, except for an interlude as a French Army surgeon in the First World War (when he shared the introduction of the Carrel–Dakin solution (mainly NaOCl) for the antiseptic treatment of deep wounds). Even before the First World War he began to attack the problem of organ transplantation. One difficulty in this is the need to ensure a blood supply to the transplanted organ without failure due to thrombosis or stenosis. Carrel developed methods for suturing blood vessels with minimum damage and risk of infection or thrombosis. These techniques greatly advanced vascular surgery. He even suggested, in 1910, the coronary bypass procedure and carried it out on a cadaver. The method was not usable on living patients until half a century later. He won an unshared Nobel Prize in 1912.

He went on to study methods of keeping organs alive by perfusion (ie passage of blood or a blood substitute through the organ’s blood vessels). With C Lindbergh (1902–74), the aviator, he produced a perfusion pump (‘artificial heart’) in 1935. Major advances (eg in dealing with rejection of donor tissues) were needed before transplants of organs such as the kidney could be achieved by others after the Second World War, but Carrel’s methods were essential for that later success.

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