How Louis Pasteur Developed Preventative Treatments

March 29, 2016

Louis Pasteur’s vaccines have saved more lives than any other.

His scientific accomplishments and breakthroughs earned him France’s highest decoration, the ‘Legion of Honour’ and consequently there are multiple institutes, hospitals, schools and buildings named after him because of the difference his work has made to modern pharmaceuticals.

He used process thinking to build his legacy

Following his education, Pasteur became a Professor of Chemistry at the University of Lille, where he was asked to help solve problems a local distillery had with alcohol production. He studied various aspects of fermentation, making a number of discoveries about the process, before proving the participation of living organisms in all fermentative processes.

Pasteur’s research of microbes and fermentation effectively saved the beer and wine industries in France. He introduced a simple procedure for boiling and cooling the wine, to kill the bacteria that were contaminating it. Today, we know this as pasteurisation.

He answered bigger philosophical questions in order for his work to be acknowledged

At the time, there was a belief in spontaneous generation that was highly debated, led by new theories such as Darwin’s ‘The Origin of the Species’. Pasteur attacked the problem by showing that broth could be sterilised by boiling it in a ‘swan-neck’ flask that traps contaminants before they reach the body of the flask. Even when exposed to air after boiling, the broth remained sterile, proving that there was no spontaneous generation. This not only proved Pasteur’s theories, but also solved the debate.

He used a common cause to secure funding

Pasteur began by successfully treating chickens with chicken cholera, using live bacteria culture to create an ‘active vaccine’. He managed to prove that they were now resistant to the original cholera strain and from then on he dedicated all of his work to immunisation.

He used this evidence to secure funding from farmers, developing a vaccine for anthrax, which was attacking sheep. By using a control group, he proved that those sheep that were vaccinated survived, whilst those without the vaccines, in the control group died.

At that time, rabies was largely feared. He created a new type of vaccine that had a neutralising effect on the living organism that caused the disease and in doing so, lead the way for a second class of vaccines – inactivated vaccines. In 1885, Pasteur first used his rabies vaccine to treat a 9-year-old boy, Joseph Meister, who had been bitten by a rabid dog. It was a success and began an era of preventative medicines.

His methods had a worldwide impact

Pasteur’s investigations and studies of the microbes that cause harmful physiological effects in animals made him a pioneer in the field of infectious pathology and preventative treatment for disease. He is the man that kick-started the war against germs, and his legacy will last forever.

As a challenger law firm, we have an enormous amount of respect for other challengers, innovators and those people who are brave enough to take industries forward. In this series, we will celebrate these people and their achievements.