Pasteur's veterinary disciple pioneered the field of bacteriology

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When French veterinarian and microbiologist Edmond Isidore Entinne Nocard died in 1903 at the age of 53, his untimely passing was reported by the Journal of Hygiene as "a severe blow to medical science throughout the world."

Nocard 1850-1903

Hailed as one of the most distinguished disciples of Louis Pasteur, Dr. Nocard is credited as the first veterinarian in France to apply modern medical concepts to veterinary science, most notably in the area of infectious diseases. He helped to pioneer the nascent field of bacteriology with discoveries that affect human and animal health to this day.

Born Jan. 29, 1850, in Provins, France, Dr. Nocard enrolled in the Veterinary School of Alfort in 1868. His studies were briefly interrupted by the Franco-German War, and after a stint in the 5th Lancers, he resumed his veterinary studies and graduated in 1873 as class valedictorian.

For five years, Dr. Nocard headed up the Clinical Service at Alfort Veterinary School before his appointment as professor of pathology and clinical surgery in 1878. Also that year, he attended the 9th International Congress of Hygiene in Paris, where he explained various methods for ensuring meat safety.

At Alfort, Dr. Nocard began editing Les Archives vétérinaires, a journal that published reports on medicine, surgery, hygiene, and legislation. He would later serve on the first editorial board of the Annales de l'Institut Pasteur.

Described as witty and charming, Dr. Nocard was a highly esteemed instructor. Yet he did not come into his own until 1880 when he joined Pasteur's laboratory in Paris as an assistant. It was reported that Dr. Nocard's presence there was much appreciated on account of his knowledge of veterinary medicine. After assisting Pasteur in his research on an anthrax vaccine, Dr. Nocard went on to vaccinate thousands of animals against the deadly disease.

In 1883, Dr. Nocard and three colleagues traveled to Egypt to study a cholera outbreak. One member of his party would die there of the disease. Although they were unable to isolate the causative agent of cholera, Dr. Nocard took the opportunity to study a bovine pestis epidemic in the region.

When he returned to Alfort that same year, Dr. Nocard established an annex to Pasteur's laboratory and published a series of papers detailing several novel methods. He proposed new ways of collecting blood serum, introduced surgical techniques such as the high plantar neurectomy in horses, and described intravenous injection of chloral to anesthetize large animals. Dr. Nocard also created a new culture medium for growing the tubercle bacilli.

Dr. Nocard was an active member of many national and international organizations addressing public health, infectious diseases, agriculture, and veterinary medicine. "What he said was always listened to with attention," according to the Journal of Hygiene, "for he never spoke unless he had light to throw upon the subject, the light of a finely critical mind replete with knowledge."

The National Academy of Medicine in Paris selected Dr. Nocard as a member in 1886. The following year he was appointed director of the Alfort Veterinary School.

As the 1880s drew to a close, Dr. Nocard and a colleague published a paper on streptococcal mastitis in cows in which they for the first time identified Streptococcus agalactiae as the causative bacterium.

The next decade was to be the most fruitful for Dr. Nocard, who resigned from the veterinary school in 1891 to devote himself fully to research. Among his seminal achievements were helping discover the causative agent of bovine pleuropneumonia, contributing to the eradication of horse glanders in France, using tuberculin in the diagnosis of cattle tuberculosis, and noting the link between avian and mammalian tuberculosis.

The British Medical Journal in 1903 said of Dr. Nocard that his work on tuberculosis alone was sufficient to establish his scientific credentials of the highest order. "On the basis of his scientific researches and his veterinary experience, he firmly believed that tuberculosis was essentially the same disease in man and in animals of every species and that it was communicable from one to the other," the journal stated.

Dr. Nocard believed that tetanus was a communicable disease, not a nervous disorder as was the prevailing wisdom at that time. The eventual discovery of the tetanus bacillus would prove him right.

Additionally, Dr. Nocard discovered a genus of bacteria that would bear his name: Nocardia. The condition known as nocardiosis afflicts humans—particularly immunocompromised persons—and other animals.

Dr. Nocard died after a brief illness in 1903. At his death, it was decided to build a monument in his honor at Alfort. Three years later, the monument was erected in a place of honor behind that of Claude Bourgelat, founder of the world's first veterinary school in Lyon, France.

Legends in Veterinary Medicine

In honor of World Veterinary Year, JAVMA is highlighting key international veterinarians from the past 250 years.