Albert Calmette

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Albert Calmette
Albert Calmette 1930.jpg
Albert Calmette in 1930
Born12 July 1863
Died29 October 1933(1933-10-29) (aged 70)
Nationality France
Known for Bacillus Calmette-Guérin
Scientific career
Fields Bacteriology
Institutions Pasteur Institute

Léon Charles Albert Calmette ForMemRS [1] (12 July 1863 – 29 October 1933) was a French physician, bacteriologist and immunologist, and an important officer of the Pasteur Institute. He discovered the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin, an attenuated form of Mycobacterium bovis used in the BCG vaccine against tuberculosis. He also developed the first antivenom for snake venom, the Calmette's serum.


Early career

Calmette was born in Nice, France. He wanted to serve in the Navy and be a physician, so in 1881 he joined the School of Naval Physicians at Brest. He started to serve in 1883 in the Naval Medical Corps in Hong Kong, where he worked with Dr Patrick Manson, who studied the mosquito transmission of the parasitic worm, filaria, the cause of elephantiasis. Calmette completed his medical degree on the subject of filariasis. [2] He was then assigned to Saint-Pierre and Miquelon, where he arrived in 1887. Afterwards, he served in West Africa, in Gabon and French Congo, where he researched malaria, sleeping sickness and pellagra.

Association with Pasteur

Upon his return to France in 1890, Calmette met Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) and Emile Roux (1853–1933), who was his professor in a course on bacteriology. He became an associate and was charged by Pasteur to found and direct a branch of the Pasteur Institute at Saigon (French Indochina), in 1891. [3] There, he dedicated himself to the nascent field of toxicology, which had important connections to immunology, and he studied snake and bee venom, plant poisons and curare. He also organized the production of vaccines against smallpox and rabies and carried out research on cholera, and the fermentation of opium and rice.

In 1894, he came back to France again and develop the first antivenoms for snake bites using immune sera from vaccinated horses (Calmette's serum). Work in this field was later taken up by Brazilian physician Vital Brazil, in São Paulo at the Instituto Butantan, who developed several other antivenoms against snakes, scorpions and spiders. [4]

He also took part in the development in the first immune serum against the bubonic plague (black pest), in collaboration with the discoverer of its pathogenic agent, Yersinia pestis , by Alexandre Yersin (1863–1943), and went to Portugal to study and to help fight a plague epidemic at Oporto in 1899. [4]

Institute leadership

In 1895, Roux entrusted him with the directorship of the Institute's branch at Lille (Institut Pasteur de Lille), where he was to remain for the next 25 years. In 1901, he founded the first antituberculosis dispensary at Lille, and named it after Emile Roux. [4] In 1904, he founded the "Ligue du Nord contre la Tuberculose" (Northern Antituberculosis League), which still exists today.

In 1909, he helped to establish the Institute branch in Algiers (Algeria). In 1918, he accepted the post of assistant director of the Institute in Paris; the following year he was made a member of the Académie Nationale de Médecine. [4]

Research on tuberculosis

Albert Calmette in 1923 Albert Calmette 1923.jpg
Albert Calmette in 1923

Calmette's main scientific work, which was to bring him worldwide fame and his name permanently attached to the history of medicine was the attempt to develop a vaccine against tuberculosis, which, at the time, was a major cause of death. The German microbiologist Robert Koch had discovered, in 1882, that the tubercle bacillus, Mycobacterium tuberculosis , was its pathogenic agent, and Louis Pasteur became interested in it too. In 1906, a veterinarian and immunologist, Camille Guérin, had established that immunity against tuberculosis was associated with the living tubercle bacilli in the blood. Using Pasteur's approach, Calmette investigated how immunity would develop in response to attenuated bovine bacilli injected in animals. This preparation received the name of its two discoverers (Bacillum Calmette-Guérin, or BCG, for short). Attenuation was achieved by cultivating them in a bile-containing substrate, based on idea given by a Norwegian researcher, Kristian Feyer Andvord (1855–1934). [5] From 1908 to 1921, Guérin and Calmette strived to produce less and less virulent strains of the bacillus, by transferring them to successive cultures. Finally, in 1921, they used BCG to successfully vaccine newborn infants in the Charité in Paris.

The vaccination program, however, suffered a serious setback when 72 vaccinated children developed tuberculosis in 1930, in Lübeck, Germany, due to a contamination of some batches in Germany. Mass vaccination of children was reinstated in many countries after 1932, when new and safer production techniques were implemented. Notwithstanding, Calmette was deeply shaken by the event, dying one year later, in Paris. [4]

Personal life

He was the brother of Gaston Calmette (1858–1914), the editor of Le Figaro who was shot and killed in 1914 by Henriette Caillaux. [4] Mme Caillaux was acquitted of murder.


Today, his name is one of the few remaining French names in the streets of Ho Chi Minh City (others being Yersin, Alexandre de Rhodes, Pasteur). A new bridge (completed in 2009) is also named "Calmette" connecting district 1 to district 4, also connected to the exit of the new Thu Thiem tunnel connecting the district 1 to the future residential Thu Thiem area in district 2. [6] In Cambodia, a major hospital was named after him, Calmette Hospital. [7]

Related Research Articles

BCG vaccine Vaccine primarily used against tuberculosis

Bacillus Calmette–Guérin (BCG) vaccine is a vaccine primarily used against tuberculosis (TB). In countries where tuberculosis or leprosy is common, one dose is recommended in healthy babies as close to the time of birth as possible. In areas where tuberculosis is not common, only children at high risk are typically immunized, while suspected cases of tuberculosis are individually tested for and treated. Adults who do not have tuberculosis and have not been previously immunized but are frequently exposed may be immunized as well. BCG also has some effectiveness against Buruli ulcer infection and other nontuberculous mycobacteria infections. Additionally it is sometimes used as part of the treatment of bladder cancer.

Alexandre Yersin Swiss and French physician and bacteriologist

Alexandre Emile Jean Yersin was a Swiss and naturalized French and Vietnamese physician and bacteriologist. He is remembered as the co-discoverer of the bacillus responsible for the bubonic plague or pest, which was later named in his honour: Yersinia pestis. Another bacteriologist, Kitasato Shibasaburō is often credited with independently identifying the bacterium a few days earlier but may have identified a different bacterium and not the pathogen causing plague. Yersin also demonstrated for the first time that the same bacillus was present in the rodent as well as in the human disease, thus underlining the possible means of transmission.

Pasteur Institute organization

The Pasteur Institute is a French non-profit private foundation dedicated to the study of biology, micro-organisms, diseases, and vaccines. It is named after Louis Pasteur, who made some of the greatest breakthroughs in modern medicine at the time, including pasteurization and vaccines for anthrax and rabies. The institute was founded on June 4, 1887, and inaugurated on November 14, 1888.

Camille Guérin French veterinarian and scientist

Jean-Marie Camille Guérin was a French veterinarian, bacteriologist and immunologist who, together with Albert Calmette, developed the Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (BCG), a vaccine for immunization against tuberculosis.

Edmond Nocard French veterinarian and microbiologist

Edmond Isidore Etienne Nocard, was a French veterinarian and microbiologist, born in Provins.

Armand Frappier, was a physician, microbiologist, and expert on tuberculosis from Quebec, Canada.

rBCG30 is a prospective vaccine against tuberculosis created by a team headed by Marcus A. Horwitz at UCLA. It is a live vaccine, consisting of BCG genetically modified to produce abundant amounts of a 30kDa antigen that has been shown to produce a strong immune response in animals and humans. The vaccine completed a Phase I double-blind randomized controlled clinical trial that demonstrated that rBCG30 was safe and immunogenic; during nine months of follow-up, rBCG30, but not BCG, induced significantly increased Antigen 85B-specific immune responses in eight immunological assays.

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Amédée Borrel French biologist

Amédée Marie Vincent Borrel was a French physician and microbiologist born in Cazouls-lès-Béziers, Hérault.

Pasteur Institute of Lille

The Pasteur Institute of Lille is a research centre and member of the Pasteur Institute network. It includes 14 research units and 1,150 employees including 626 researchers located in Lille, France. There are also 300 employees located outside the Pasteur site. Its revenues are above €70 million. Several neuroscience start-up companies have emerged from the Pasteur Institute of Lille.

The French Louis Pasteur (1822–1895) and German Robert Koch (1843–1910) are the two greatest figures in medical microbiology and in establishing acceptance of the germ theory of disease. In 1882, fueled by national rivalry and a language barrier, the tension between Pasteur and the younger Koch erupted into an acute conflict.

Félix Mesnil zoologist, biologist

Félix Étienne Pierre Mesnil was a French zoologist, biologist, botanist, mycologist and algologist.

Marcel Baltazard French physician

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Alfred Boquet was a French veterinarian and biologist born in Cires-lès-Mello.

Léopold Nègre French physician

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Calmette is a surname. Notable people with the surname include:

Hélène Sparrow Polish microbiologist and public health pioneer

Hélène Sparrow was a pioneer in world public health, a medical doctor and microbiologist. She was noted for her work to control typhus in Poland after the First World War and then leading national programmes of vaccination against diphtheria, scarlet fever, spotted fever and relapsing fever in Poland and Tunisia into the 1960s.

Jacques Tréfouël was a French medical chemist.


  1. C. J. M. (1934). "Leon Charles Albert Calmette, 1863-1933". Biographical Memoirs of Fellows of the Royal Society . 1 (3): 315. doi:10.1098/rsbm.1934.0015. eISSN   2053-9118. ISSN   1479-571X.
  2. Siang Yong Tan; Erika Kwok (2012). "Albert Calmette (1863–1933): Originator of the BCG vaccine" (PDF). Singapore Medical Journal. 53 (7): 433–4. PMID   22815009.
  3. Hawgood, B.J. (1999). "Doctor Albert Calmette 1863-1933: founder of antivenomous serotherapy and of antituberculous BCG vaccination". Toxicon . 37 (9): 1241–58. doi:10.1016/s0041-0101(99)00086-0. ISSN   0041-0101. PMID   10400286.
  4. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Sakula, Alex (1983). "BCG: who were Calmette and Guerin?". Thorax . 38 (11): 806–812. doi:10.1136/thx.38.11.806. PMC   459668 . PMID   6359561.
  5. Álvarez Pasquín, María José; César Velasco Muñoz (2018). Vacuna a vacuna 3a edición: Manual de información sobre vacunas on line (in French). Amazing Books. ISBN   978-84-17403-17-1.
  6. Luan, Kinh (22 January 2009). "Calmette Bridge completed". Saigon Times Daily . Retrieved 5 September 2019.
  7. "Calmette Hospital" . Retrieved 5 September 2019.