World’s Super Scientists – Charles Robert Richet

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Serendipity in Medicine – Charles Robert Richet

Charles Robert Richet, a French physiologist conducted several animal experiments on dogs.

Key words

antigen : also allergen, eg. microorganisms, toxoids, exotoxins, foreign/cells/tissues and others. Antigenicity is the capacity to stimulate the production of antibodies in the body.

antibody : a protective product. Production of antibodies is the response in the cells of the body consequent upon exposure to an antigen.

anaphylaxis [ana = away from phylaxis = protection] antithesis of prophylaxis [pro = in favour of phylaxis = protection], a hypersensitivity reaction that occurs on exposure to an antigen.

prophylaxis : the prevention of disease.

hypersensitivity : a state of altered reactivity in which the body exhibits an exaggerated response to a foreign agent or allergen.

anaphylactic shock : severe life-threatening reaction following suddenly after (i) an injection of a drug or serum (ii) exposure to poison/toxin.


The Roman philosopher Lucretius observing exaggerated responses to commonly occurring substances said, “what is food for some may be fierce poison for others”.

The ‘era of allergy’ started in the 1800s with the description of hay fever.

Scientist Charles Robert Richet exposed some dogs to the poison/toxin from the tentacles of sea anemones. Some of the dogs suffered from allergic symptoms including vomiting, itching, discomfort, warmth over body for some days; later unconsciousness occurred gradually and some dogs died (d-d); the remaining dogs made full recovery thus surviving their allergic reactions (d-h).

(d-d) dogs died (d-h) dogs remaining healthy

At a later time (few weeks after) the (d-h) dogs were exposed again to another dose of anemone poison/toxin, this time much smaller dose than before; the dogs suffered from symptoms of allergy minutes after Richet Scientist administered the poison/toxin – Inference : The body is alert to the offending poison/toxin! This is the basis of allergy.

Allergy is a state of wakefulness/watchfulness of the tissues in the body; it indicates hypersensitivity of the body cells, an altered reaction
incited by an antigen or allergen, e.g. allergic rhinitis (inflammation of the nose), bronchial asthma.
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Allergy is a hostile reactivity of tissues in the body to a foreign substance, pollen, article in diet, drug, etc. and during parasitic infestation.

In 1913 Charles Robert Richet Scientist received a Nobel Prize for his discovery and articulation of diseases of allergy.

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