Émile Roux, savior of children

 In 1878, Louis Pasteur was looking for a physician to help him study contagious diseases. His associate Émile Duclaux introduced him to a former student of his – Émile Roux – who quickly came into the orbit of the famous scientist. The young physician was 25, Pasteur was 56.

Emile Roux - Institut Pasteur

After studying medicine, Émile Duclaux asked Émile Roux to conduct a study on virulent diseases at the École Normale. Inoculating a hen with an old culture of fowl cholera, Émile Roux set Pasteur on the right track to vaccination using germs with attenuated virulence. Together, they oversaw the success of the first veterinary vaccines and of the human rabies vaccine and co-founded the Institut Pasteur in 1887. Émile Roux launched the first lecture series at the Institut Pasteur, the “Course on microbial research techniques” nicknamed “Monsieur Roux’s Course,” training microbiologists who went on to practice worldwide. In 1894, he initiated a major treatment against diphtheria, reassuring Pasteur, then near the end of his life, that he had a worthy successor. When Pasteur died the following year, Roux became assistant director of the Institut Pasteur, with Émile Duclaux as director. He founded Pasteur Hospital in 1900 and in turn directed the Institut from 1904 until his death.

A leading figure at the Institut Pasteur

He was often described as ascetic, a “lay monk”, an image bolstered by his spartan appearance, his “piercing eyes” and by the fact that in the last fifteen years of his life he lived in a room at Pasteur Hospital called his “pigeon loft”. His austerity, due to his ailments caused by hemorrhagic tuberculosis, masked a great kindness. “His life contains the history of the Institut Pasteur, just as the Institut Pasteur contained his entire life,” noted his death notice in 1933. Today, through the railings of the Institut Pasteur at 25, rue du Docteur Roux, one can make out the tomb where he lies, in the shade of chestnut trees. The name “ROUX” will forever be associated with “PASTEUR”.

Roux's serum defeats "croup"

In the mid-19th century, diphtheria (or “croup”), an inflammation causing the formation of a false membrane in the throat, once affected up to 30,000 people a year in France and killed one in two infected children by asphyxiation. In 1888, Émile Roux, along with Institut Pasteur scientist Alexandre Yersin, discovered that the bacterium responsible for this disease secreted a pathological molecule, the first bacterial toxin ever described. A few years later, Roux and his colleagues Martin and Chaillou evaluated a treatment using a serum rich in antibodies against the diphtheria toxin in dozens of children – with the result that mortality was halved. Presented at the 1894 Budapest Congress, this medical advance was widely acclaimed, making Roux a hero of science and the “savior of children”.

Timeline of the life of Émile Roux

> December 17, 1853
Born in Confolens (Charente).

> 1872-1873
Studies medicine at Clermont-Ferrand. Assistant professor to Émile Duclaux, professor of chemistry at the faculty of sciences.

> 1874-1877
Student at the Val-de-Grâce school of military medicine. Refuses to defend his thesis within the deadline and is sent down.

> 1878
Marries Rose Anna Shedlock in London, who dies of tuberculosis in 1885. Joins Louis Pasteur's laboratory at the École Normale Supérieure.

> 1879-1890
Takes part in Pasteur's work on the attenuation of fowl cholera and then on the vaccine against sheep anthrax. Defends his M.D. on rabies. Becomes deputy director of Pasteur’s laboratory. Travels to Egypt to work on cholera.

> 1888-1895
Head of department at the Institut Pasteur. Publishes a work on diphtheria with Alexandre Yersin.

> 1888-1914
Launches and heads up a course in microbiology at the Institut Pasteur in which many foreign and French physicians were to enroll.

> 1891-1894
Works on the anti-diphtheria serum.

> 1896-1906
Appointed assistant director of the Institut Pasteur. Conducts research on tetanus, tuberculosis, pleuropneumonia and, with Ilya Mechnikov, on syphilis.

> 1904-1933
Appointed director of the Institut Pasteur. Ceases all personal research activity.

> 1914-1918
Sets up army laboratories, appointing three bacteriologists and one chemist for each one.

> November 3, 1933
Dies in Paris and is given a national funeral


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