Gamaleya, Nikolay Fyodorovich

views updated

Gamaleya, Nikolay Fyodorovich

(b. Odessa, Russia, 17 February 1859; d. Moscow, U.S.S.R., 29 March 1949)


Gamaleya came from a Ukrainian family that had risen through service to the country since the seventeenth century. His father, Fyodor Mikhailovich Gamaleya, was a soldier; his mother, Karolina Vikentievna Gamaleya, was of Polish extraction.

Having graduated from the Gymnasium in 1876, Gamaleya enrolled in the Physics and Mathematics Faculty at Novorossysky University. While a student there he became fascinated with biology. One of his teachers was E. I. Mechniknov, and in Strasbourg, where Gamaleya went for vacations, he studied biochemistry under Hoppe-Seyler.

After graduation from the university in 1881, Gamaleya enrolled in the Military Medical Academy at St. Petersburg, then the center of medical education in Russia. His teachers included such prominent figures as S.P. Botkin. V. V, Pashutin, and V. A. Manassein. After graduation in 1883 with the title of physician, Gamaleya returned to Odessa. The young doctor became actively interested in bacteriology, a science then in its infancy, and conducted research in a bacteriological laboratory that he had set up in his apartment.

Pasteur’s successful inoculation against rabies in 1885 definitively determined Gamaleya’s scientific interests. In 1886 the Odessa Society of Physicians commissioned him to familiarize himself at Pasteur’s laboratory with the technique of performing antirabies inoculations. His persistence and curiosity, medical knowledge, and microbiological training enabled him to master the method. The acquaintance with Pasteur was the beginning of creative collaboration and of a personal friendship that was strengthened by the struggle with opponents of Pasteur’s method. At the time of especially sharp criticism of his method in England, Pasteur asked Gamaleya to defend it. Gamaleya was the first to inoculate himself with the antirabies vaccine, thereby proving its harmlessness to a healthy organism.

In 1886 the world’s second bacteriological station—there was already one in Paris—was established in Odessa, with the participation of Mechnikov and Gamaleya. Here antirabies inoculations were successfully administered according to Pasteur’s method, which undoubtedly was its best propaganda and defense. An ardent supporter of this method, Gamaleya used it widely and introduced important additions to its theoretical basis and valuable practical refinements.

In preparations containing the living virus, Gamaleya established that the effectiveness of antirabies vaccination depends on its quantitative content. On the basis of this principle he developed an intensive method of vaccination through the utilization of brain tissue less subject to drying. In addition, he discovered that inoculative antirabies immunity is physiologically limited and that vaccination is ineffective against manifest rabies as well as during the latent period of infection (about fourteen days).

In the 1880’s, Gamaleya studied questions relating to the preparation of a vaccine against Siberian plague (anthrax). In 1887 he discovered a vibrio similar to that of cholera in the intestines of sick birds, which he named the Mechnikov bacillus. The study of this bacillus marked the beginning of many years of research in cholera.

In Pasteur’s laboratory, as well as in those of Charles Bouchard and Joseph Strauss, Gamaleya studied the phenomena of inflammation and the processes whereby microbes are destroyed in an organism. He believed that microbes invading a living organism are subjected to the action of two closely related factors—humoral and cellular, that is, the action of soluble antibodies produced by the cells of the reticuloendothelial system. This research produced new data and concepts concerning these phenomena.

Returning to Russia in 1892 from France, where he had worked for a total of six years, Gamaleya initiated his study of cholera. In 1893 he defended his doctoral dissertation, Etiologia kholery s tochki zrenia eksperimentalnoy patologii (“The Etiology of Cholera From the Point of View of Experimental Pathology”). The study of cholera and the struggle against this disease occupied a conspicuous position in Gamaleya’s scientific work and in his activities as a physician.

In 1899 Gamaleya published the textbook Osnovy obshchey bakteriologii (“Foundations of General Bacteriology”); its fruitful generalizations and original views on fundamental questions in bacteriology had great significance for the development of the new science. The hypothesis of a viral origin for cancer was first stated in this book, and in 1910 Mechnikov supported this hypothesis.

Until 1910 Gamaleya worked in Odessa at the Bacteriological-Physiological Institute, which he had founded, lectured on general bacteriology at the stomatology school, and published many works.

Gamaleya’s importance in the history of bacteriology is as an outstanding researcher and fighter against bubonic plague. In 1902, in connection with a plague epidemic that had broken out in Odessa, Gamaleya began a theoretical investigation of its epidemiology. The system of practical measures he developed had a decisive significance in the liquidation and prevention of this dreaded disease.

In the period preceding the 1917 Revolution, Gamaleya actively concerned himself with prevention of epidemics. In 1908–1909 he conducted investigations of typhus; he was the initiator of a program of fumigation in Russia, From 1912 through 1928 he studied smallpox, which was endemic in Russia. As director of the Smallpox Inoculation Institute, he developed a new, refined means for obtaining smallpox detritus.

Exhaustive study of the theory and practical use of inoculations against rabies enabled Gamaleya to explain the causes of failures that had been observed in the application of the method and to propose the so-called intensive method, which was immediately accepted by Pasteur and introduced into wide use in critical cases of rabies. Gamaleya’s work in paralytic rabies, then unstudied, was important. His research gained the high appreciation of Pasteur, who in 1887 conveyed his “keen appreciation for your rare services.”

Gamaleya’s proposals regarding the fight against cholera were exceptionally valuable in pre-Revolutionary Russia, where the low level of sanitation led to wide propagation of epidemic diseases. In contradistinction to the then accepted idea that cholera was spread exclusively by personal contact, Gamaleya contended that epidemics resulted from colossal multiplication of cholera bacilli in stagnant water. In this connection, he insisted on maximal observance of sanitation measures in densely populated areas. Moreover, Gamaleya proposed that cholera vaccinations be administered as prophylaxis. The success of this arrangement led to the complete elimination in the 1920’s of cholera in the Soviet Union.

In 1883 Mechnikov had voiced his phagocyte theory of immunity. Gamaleya turned to a study of the mechanism of immunity against anthrax. Extensive and careful experiments in the preparation of vaccines and microscopic study of their action on anthrax bacilli in all organism enabled Gamaleya to establish the important regularity of the relationship between fever in the vaccinated organism and the manufacture of antibodies.

Study of the epidemiology of bubonic plague confirmed that it was transferred by the fleas on rodents. Having explained, in particular, the role of gray rats as carriers of the plague, Gamaleya launched a campaign during a plague epidemic for their complete extermination in cities. He also demonstrated that epidemic jaundice, mange, and typhus are also spread by rats. Following Gamaleya’s suggestion, rats were annihilated not only by poison but also with the aid of microbes belonging to the paratyphoid group.

Gamaleya’s many investigations of typhus were the result of much work on the surveillance of public sanitation. As early as 1874 the physician G. N. Minkh, having inoculated himself with the blood of a person suffering from relapsing fever, proved the contagiousness of this disease and put forth the hypothesis that it was carried by lice. In 1908 Gamaleya confirmed this hypothesis by epidemiological investigations. Studying methods for the annihilation of lice, he found that the only effective method was dry heat treatment (100°C.) of the infected insects, since their behavior is determined not by chemotaxis, as had been supposed, but solely by thermotaxis.

In studying tuberculosis, Gamaleya discovered various types of microbes that cause the disease. In 1910 he discovered a method for the cultivation of the tubercle bacillus in an artificial medium. He persistently worked on the creation of tuberculosis immunity and specific methods for treating the disease.

Gamaleya contributed greatly to the history of virology. He was the first to state, as early as 1886, that filterable viruses are pathogens of various illnesses. The subsequent development of virology has confirmed this brilliant vision.

Study of inflammation and the processes for destroying microbes led Gamaleya to the discovery in 1898 of certain bacteriolytic substances that destroy microbes. These previously unknown agents turned out to be bacteriophages, whose presence in nature was confirmed by d’Hérelle.

After 1917 Gamaleya successfully worked on problems of immunology, virology, and tuberculosis. Questions of sanitation, hygiene, and prophylactic medicine continued to remain the center of his attention. He was the scientific director of the Central Institute of Microbiology and Epidemiology (1929–1931), which now bears his name. In 1931 he headed the organization of the Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology in Yerevan. From 1938 Gamaleya headed the department of microbiology at the Second Moscow Institute of Medicine. He served as the organizer and permanent chairman of the All-Union Society of Microbiologists, Epidemiologists, and Infectionists.

Of Gamaleya’s more than 350 works, over 100—primarily fundamental works and monographs—were written after 1917 . Many have been published in translation.


I. Original Works. Gamaleya’s collected works were published as Sobranie sochineny (Moscow, 1956). Among them are Etiologia kholery s tochki zrenia eksperimentalnoy patologil (“The Etiology of Cholera From the Point of View of Experimental Pathology,” St, Petersburg, 1893), his diss.; Bakterynye yady (“Bacterical Poisons,” Moscow, 1893); Osnooy obshchey bakteriologii (“Foundations of General Biology,” Odessa., 1899); Osnovy immunologii (“Foundations of Immunology:” Moscow-Leningrad, 1928); Filtruyushchiesya virusy (“Filterable Viruses,” Moscow-Leningrad, 1930); Ospoprivivanie (“Smallpox Inoculation,” Moscow-Leningrad, 1934); and Uchebnik meditsinskoy mikrobiologii (“Textbook of Medical Microbiology,” Moscow, 1943).

II. Secondary Liteature. On Gamaley or his work, see E. Finn, Akademik Gamaleya, Ocherk zhizni i deyatelnosti (“Academician Gamaleya An Essay on his life and nosti (“Academician Gamaleya. An Essay on His life and Career,” Moscow, 1963); N.P. Gracheva, Bolshaya zhizn (“A Great Life,” Moscow, 1959); I. Gryaznov, Nikolay Fyodorovich Gamaleya (Moscow, 1949); Y. I. Milenushkin N. F. Gamaleya. Ocherk zhizni I deyatelnosti (“N. F. Gamaleya. An Essay on His Life and Career” Moscow, 1954); and N. A. Semashko, “Pochetny akademik N. F. Gamaleya” (“Honorary Academician N. F. Gamaleya”), in Nauka i zhizn, no. 2 (1949), pp. 39–40

V. Gutina.

About this article

Gamaleya, Nikolay Fyodorovich

Updated About content Print Article