Ancel, Paul Albert

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Ancel, Paul Albert

(b. Nancy, France, 21 September 1873; d. Paris, France, 27 January 1961)


Ancel became an intern in the Nancy hospitals in 1898 and received the M.D. in 1899 and the docteur ès sciences from the University of Nancy in 1903. The following year he was made professeur agrègé of anatomy at the Faculté de Médecine in Lyons. He then became professeur titulaire of anatomy at Nancy in 1908 and of embryology at Strasbourg in 1919. The chair of embryology in Strasbourg was the first of its kind in France. It demanded, both in teaching and in research, a complete reorientation, which Ancel accomplished superbly.

Ancel’s numerous honors include corresponding membership in the Académie des Sciences of Paris, national corresponding membership in the Académie de Médecine, honorary foreign membership in the Académie Royale de Médecine Belge of Brussels, the Prix du Prince de Monaco of the Académie de Médecine (1937), and the Prix de la Fondation Singer Polignac (1950), both shared with Pol Bouin.

Ancel’s work can be divided into three sections:

(1) His first publications sum up the observations of an anatomist trained in the operating room, but at the same time he carried on his research in cytology, which furnished the material for an important thesis on the hermaphroditic genital gland of the snail.

(2) Beginning in 1903, he collaborated for twentyfive years with Pol Bouin, first at Nancy and then at Strasbourg, in investigations on the physiology of reproduction in mammals. Their essential discoveries can be summed up as follows: In the male it is the interstitial gland of the testis that produces a hormone responsible for the secondary sexual characteristics. In the female the internal secretion of the corpus luteum determines the preparation of the uterine mucosa for the nidation of the fertilized ovum, as well as the morphogenetic development of the mammary gland. These basic facts are still accepted, and Ancel and Bouin must figure in any history of sexual endocrinology. This science began, not around 1930 with the isolation of sex hormones, but in the first years of the twentieth century, through experimental investigations, among which those of Ancel and Bouin are of primary importance.

(3)Studies in experimental embryology and teratogenesis, started in Strasbourg as early as 1919, and continued by Ancel until his death, sometimes with various collaborators, constitute an important part of modern embryology. Ancel elucidated the determinism of bilateral symmetry in the amphibian embryo and gave a new scope to experimental teratogenesis, which had remained stagnant for scores of years, by trying out new and fruitful methods, such as the experimental production of monstrosities by precise and localized lesions and the use of chemistry in applying to the whole embryo, at a precise stage of development, substances having a specific action determined by previous tests. Ancel thus became one of the creators of present experimental embryology, and particularly of teratogenesis, by using physical and chemical means.

Of a determined and at times vehement character, Ancel did not fear discussion in order to defend university policy or conclusions reached through his investigations. He was most meticulous in preparing his courses, using blackboard diagrams as well as practical demonstrations in embryology. His scientific writings exceeded 300 memoranda, reports, and books, and his research, begun as early as his medical studies, covered nearly sixty years. After his retirement from teaching, Ancel continued his research at the Institut de Physico-Chimie Biologique in Paris until the eve of his death.


For a complete list of Ancel’s publications and references to his obituary notices, see Étienne Wolff, “Le Professeur Paul Ancel,” in Archives d’anatomie, d’histologie, d’embryologie normales et exp Entity rimentales, supp. 44 (1961), 5–27.

Marc Kleim

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Ancel, Paul Albert

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