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Ramon, Gaston

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Gaston Ramon

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Gaston Ramon
(September 30, 1886 - June 8, 1963)
Born in France
Year of Discovery: 1926
Veterinarian Developed Way to Make Diphtheria Vaccine for the Whole World

Alfort Veterinary School is where Gaston Ramon got his start in medicine. And, given the nature of scientific research, it makes perfect sense. Animals are critical to the research and discovery of new treatments and Ramon's specialty was the study of serums. Ramon put his training to good use, and he was the final link in the chain of development of an effective vaccine to fight diphtheria. While others had already identified the diphtheria and tetanus toxins, Ramon set about producing safe antitoxins for both the diphtheria and tetanus toxins. His discovery allowed the antitoxins to be mass-produced, providing the first effective means of combating diphtheria on a wide-scale basis.

Diphtheria is a horrible disease, often referred to as the "strangling angel," because of the suffocating membrane that can form over the throat and tonsils. It's a highly infectious disease, typically spread from person to person through coughing or sneezing. Initial symptoms appear two to five days after infection and may include a sore throat, swollen glands, hoarseness, difficulty breathing, and fever. Some people may suffer only a mild reaction, but diphtheria may be fatal for others. It is especially life-threatening to children. The complications include toxic damage to the heart muscles (diphtheric myocarditis) and to the peripheral nerves (neuritis). Diphtheria is rare in developed nations, thanks to widespread vaccination programs, but continues to be a serious threat in developing nations.

Formaldehyde would seem like an unlikely resource in developing a life-saving vaccine. But, that is exactly the critical component Ramon brought to his research. He discovered that by degrading the diphtheria toxin with formalin (an aqueous solution of 40 percent formaldehyde) he could produce a stunning result: an antitoxin weakened to the point it would not cause active disease, yet still potent enough to produce an immune response. This was the critical breakthrough. These vaccines are known as "anatoxins," or "toxoids," and continue to be the basis of the diphtheria antitoxins produced today. Ramon further developed a methodology for determining the exact potency of the diphtheria antitoxin. His work produced a precisely formulated vaccine that didn't yield the inconsistent results of previous forms of the vaccine. The vaccine became the standard in fighting diphtheria and many nations, Canada being among the first, implemented mass immunization programs.

The adage "blood is thicker than water" seems especially apt in Ramon's case. Not only did he specialize in the study of serums, he also married into the family of one of the leading researchers of his day. His wife was the great niece of Emile Roux, a student and coworker of Louis Pasteur. Roux was instrumental in the founding of the Pasteur Institute where Ramon completed his breakthrough in the diphtheria vaccine. Roux himself did significant work in the development of a serum therapy against diphtheria - a foundation upon which his great niece's husband successfully built.



Introduction by Tim Anderson


Table of Contents

Links to More Information About the Scientist
Key Insight
Key Experiment or Research
Key Contributors
Quotes by the Scientist
Quotes About the Scientist
Fun Trivia About The Science
The Science Behind the Discovery
Personal Information
Science Discovery Timeline
Recommended Books About the Science
Books by the Scientist
Books About the Scientist
Major Academic Papers
Curriculum Vitae
Links to Science and Related Information on the Subject


Links to More About the Scientist & the Science

The Pasteur Institute biography (click on Ramon's name in the left panel):

The comprehensive sourcebook of bacterial protein toxins, by Alouf, referencing Ramon: biography:

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Key Insight

Key Experiments or Research


Key Contributors

The Team
Explore other scientists who furthered this lifesaving advance.
Lifesavers: Diphtheria and Tetanus Vaccine
Paul Ehrlich
A legend in immunology - Ehrlich developed diphtheria therapy.
Christian Zoeller
Zoeller used formaldehyde to develop his lifesaving tetanus vaccine.
Shibasaburo Kitasato
"On loan to Germany," developed first effective therapies against diphtheria and tetanus.
Emil von Behring
Originally intent on the priesthood, von Behring developed therapies against diphtheria and tetanus.

Quotes by the Scientist

Quotes About the Scientist


Fun Trivia About the Science

The Science Behind the Discovery

Personal Information

Scientific Discovery Timeline

Recommended Books About the Science

Books by the Scientist

Books About the Scientist



Major Academic Papers Written by the Scientist

Curriculum Vitae

Links to Information on the Science