Gley, Marcel-Eugène-Émile

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(b. Épinal, France, 16 January 1857; d. Paris, France, 25 October 1930, physiology.

After obtaining his Bachelor of Arts at the University of Nancy in 1878, Gley studied medicine in Montpellier and then returned to Nancy, where he became a medical doctor in 1881. His flair for scientific research was evident early in his career: even as a student he was fascinated by physiological experimentation. After moving to Paris in 1880, Gley worked until 1883 in Jules Marey’s laboratory at the Collège de France. From 1883 to 1889 he was assistant in physiology at the Faculty of Medicine and from 1886 to 1893 was director of the clinical laboratory of the Hôtel‐Dieu. He became assistant professor of physiology at the Faculty of Medicine in 1889, assistant to the professor of physiology at the Museum of Natural History in 1893, and deputy to Charles Richet in 1895. During this period Gley achieved a felicitous combination of university instruction and pure research; his inventive genius had free rein. He also participated enthusiasti cally in various projects of the French scientific community.

Editor in chief of Journal de physiologie et de pathologie générales, secretary (1899) and vice president (1897) of the Société de Biologie, and member of the Academy of Medicine from 1903 (president for the year 1927). Gley was considered one of the major continuators of the work of Claude Bernard. He received official recognition in 1908, when he was named to the newly created chair of general biology of the Collège de France. From then on, he devoted more time to his professorial activity than to experimental work, his boldness of experimental imagination supplanted by a broader consideration of the great problems of physiology.

Gley’s initial discoveries had to do with blood clotting, in particular with the mechanisms of anti clotting factors. He collaborated with Charles Richet in the latter’s neurophysiological experiments, no tably on the role of the central nervous system in regulation of temperature, discovering, in 1884, that stimulation of the anterior lobe of the cerebral cortex in rabbits provoked a rise in temperature. In 1890 he was awarded the Prix Montyon for his study of the nervous system. Like Richet, Gley studied immunization against the hemolytic action of serums. In April 1891—independent of similar experiments conducted in Italy in 1890 by Gustavo Pisenti and Giulio Vassale—he showed that dogs and rabbits whose thyroids had been surgically removed were able to survive for some time if aqueous extracts from this gland were administered. This experimental demonstration was followed almost immediately by its practical application to humans. In October 1891 George B. Murray obtained the first success in the treatment of myxedema through thyroid medication.

Gley noted that the ablation of the thyroid alone was less serious than the simultaneous extirpation of the small attached glands. After his first publication in 1891, he described not only the substitutive effects of the total removal of the thyroid in thyroidectomized animals but also the existence of parathyroids (unaware that a description of them had already been published in Sweden by Ivar Sandström), and he was the first to discuss their physiological role (1891–1893). In 1891 he induced glycosuria in dogs by tying the efferent veins of the pancreas.

Gley was one of the founders of organotherapy and modern endocrinology, both in his experimental research and in his theoretical study of “functional and interrelational humoral correlations.” At the center of his interest was the notion of internal secretion, of which he produced an excellent his torical analysis, highlighting the role of Claude Bernard and of Charles-Édouard Brown-Séquard. His rules of epistemological criticism in experiments with extracts of organs were strict, and he was highly cautious in the therapeutic administration of these extracts. In fact, the severity of these rules caused him to abandon his efforts to treat diabetes, and he published nothing about those experiments. In December 1922, however, after learning of the discovery of insulin. Gley asked that a sealed folder that had been deposited at the Société de Biologie in 1905 be opened. Its contents showed that in 1894 and 1900 he had obtained encouraging results in treating diabetic dogs with extracts from a pancreas whose ducts previously had been obstructed.

Gley’s other research concerned the presence of iodine in the thyroid and in blood, the relations between suprarenal secretion and the activity of the autonomic system, acquired immunity after the injection of toxic doses of an organ extract (in particular the phenomenon he called tachyphylaxis), the physiology of the liver (most especially its anti toxic role), the physiology of the cardiac muscle, the sense of taste, and the relation between phys iological phenomena and mental activity. Gley had a keen appreciation of historical precedents and strove for elegance in literary expression. His publications of philosophical questions and on the his tory of science stood in the positivist tradition and were outstanding for their clarity and good sense.


1. Original Works. Gley’s principal discoveries were published in “Sur les fonctions due corps thyroïde,” in Comptes rendus de la Société de biologie. 43 (1891), 841– 847; “Sur les troubles consécutifs de la destruction du pancréas,” in Comptes rendus de l’ Académie des sciences, 112 (1891), 752–755; and “Action des extraits de pancréas sclérosé sur des chiens diabétiques,” in Comptes rendus de la société de la de biologie. 87 (1922), 1322–1325. Among his articles on the history of science are “The Theory of Internal Secretion: Its History and Development,” in The Practitioner, 94 (1915), 2–15: and his articles on the work of F. X. Bichat, Claude Bernard. A. Vulpian, and M. Schiff. Other publications include Traité élémentaire de physiologie (paris, 1910: 8th ed., 1934), with Mathias Duval: a manual of endocrinology entitled Les sécrétions internes (paris, 1914; 3rd ed., 1925), trans, and ed. by Maurice Fishberg as The Internal Secretions (New York, 1917); and the following collections of essays and lectures: Essais de philosophie et d’histoire de la biologie (Paris, 1900); Études de psychologie physiologique et pathologique (paris, 1903); Quatre lecons sur les sécrétions internes (Paris, 1920); and Les grands problémes de l’endocrino logie (paris, 1926).

II. Secondary Literature. There is no satisfactory monograph on Gley’s life and work. A subjective but very well documented overview of his early research is in Notice sur les titres et travaux d’ Eugecircne Gley (Paris, 1902; reiss, with an appendix, 1907). There are obituary notices by an anonymous author in Archives internationales de pharmacodynamie, 38 (1930), vii–xxx; by A. d’ Arsonval in Revue scientifique, 68 (1930), 577–580; by J. Jolly in Presse médicale, 38 (1930), 1565–1566; by P. Portier in Bulletin de l’ Académie de médecine, 3rd ser., 104 (1931), 392–398; and by C. Richet in Journal de physiologie et pathologie générales, 29 (1931). 1–6. A more recent as sessment of his work in endocrinology is M. Pestel, “Le cinquantenaire de la découverte de l’insuline: E. Gley, précurseeur de F. J. Banting et C. H. Best,” in Nouvelle presse médicale, 1 (1972), 1527–1528.

M. D. Grmek