Charles Richet was a Parisian physiologist, who was born on this day in 1850. There scarcely seems an area of science – actually, life in general – that he didn’t delve into. His research roved between disciplines and interests, from hydrochloric acid in gastric juices to aviation, from heat regulation in mammals to spiritualism. But it was for his work on anaphylaxis that he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1913. Anaphylaxis is a massive, life-threatening allergic reaction, which occurs when the immune system overreacts to an otherwise harmless substance – like a peanut. Richet injected poison from the Portuguese man-of-war jellyfish into dogs on two occasions. He found that dogs that survived the first injection without any distress, when given a second injection three weeks later, had a violent reaction and died within 25 minutes. His work explained a host of previously misunderstood cases of intoxication and sudden death.
Written by Nick Kennedy
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