Jules Jean Baptiste Vincent Bordet

(1870—1961) Belgian bacteriologist and immunologist

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August von Wassermann (1866—1925)


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Belgian bacteriologist, a pioneer of modern immunology who discovered complement, a complex of proteins in the blood that causes the destruction of foreign cells in an immune response. He received the Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine in 1919.

Bordet graduated in medicine from the University of Brussels in 1892 and after two years clinical work moved to the Pasteur Institute, Paris. Studying the breakdown (lysis) of bacteria in immunized animals, Bordet found that two factors were involved: a specific antibody that occurred only in immunized individuals and a nonspecific component present in all individuals. (This latter he termed ‘alexin’, later renamed complement.) The interaction between the antibody and the foreign cell caused the complement to bind, or ‘fix’ to, the cell and disrupt its membrane. In 1901 Bordet was appointed to found and direct the Institut Pasteur du Brabant in Brussels. In collaboration with his brother-in-law, Octave Gengou, he developed the phenomenon of complement fixation as a means of detecting the presence of specific antibodies in blood, a valuable tool in the monitoring of disease and the basis of the Wassermann test for syphilis. In 1906 Bordet, with Gengou, discovered the whooping cough bacterium (subsequently named after him as Bordetella pertussis) and prepared the first vaccine. Bordet became professor of bacteriology at the Free University of Brussels (1907–35) and continued his researches on pathogenic bacteria, bacteriophages, and blood coagulation.

Subjects: Contemporary History (Post 1945) — Science and Mathematics.

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