Gustave Roussy

Born 1874
Died 1948

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Swiss-French neuropathologist, born November 24, 1874, Vevey at Lake Geneva; died September 30, 1948, Paris 16e.

Biography of Gustave Roussy

Gustave Roussy was the son of Emile Roussy and Caroline Gabrielle Aguet. In 1907 he became a French citizen and married Henriette Thomson, daugther of Gaston Thomson, a businessman and former minister.

He pursued his undergraduate studies at Lausanne, and spent his first three years in medicine at the University of Geneva. In 1897 he continued his studies at the Faculté de médecine in Paris, where he became externe in 1899, interne des hôpitaux in 1902. As an intern he served under Pierre Marie and Jules Dejerine, both of whom stimulated Roussy in his intense pursuit of neurology.

He was chef de travaux de physiologie pathologique in Charles-Emile François-Franck’s (1849-1907) laboratory at the Collège de France from 1906 to 1908, chef de travaux d’anatomie pathologique at the Faculté de médecine in 1908, and médecin en chef at the Hôpital Paul Brousse 1913. He obtained his medical doctorate in 1907.

Roussy’s exceptional gifts were well rewarded. He was appointed Professeur d’anatomie pathologique at the Faculté de médecine in 1925, made director of the Institut du Cancer in 1930, dean of the faculty of medicine at the University of Paris in 1933 and finally became its rector in 1937. On November 11, 1940, during the German occupation of France he was removed from his position, but re-instated in 1944, after the liberation of Paris. He occupied this post with distinction until his death in 1948.

In the early part of his career Roussy was extremely productive, undertaking fundamental research in many aspects of neurology, including the function of thalamus and the autonomic nervous system. Roussy described the thalamic syndrome together with Dejerine in 1906, and showed that it followed thrombosis of the thalamic branch of the posterior cerebral artery.

Roussy undertook experimental work on the production of syringomyelia in animals and studied the physiology of micturition and defecation, and with his colleague Jean Camus (1872-1924) was the first to show that damage to the hypothalamus on its own could cause polyuria, obesity, transient glycosuria and even gonadal atrophy. He was also interested in neuroendocrinology, and his work in this field was brought together in a massive monograph of over 1000 pages titled Traité de Neuroendocronologie, published in 1946.

The familial neurological condition that is now attached to their names was described by Gustave Roussy and his junior colleague Gabrielle Lévy in 1926. In Lévy's obituary Roussy generously conceded that during their joint investigations Lévy had usually had the original idea and had undertaken a greater part of their collaborative work. Some authoritative medical dictionaries and encyclopaedias use the term Lévy-Roussy syndrome.

Gustave Roussy published extensively on the basis of his experiences with wounds during World War I. He wrote a book about war psychoses and, together with Jacques Jean Lhermitte (1877-1959), wrote a book on injuries of the spinal cord and cauda equiana and the other psychoneuroses engendered by war. With J. Boisseau and M. d’Oelsnitz he published a volume on the treatment of the psychoneuroses of war. With M. Mosinger he undertook the systematic study of the nuclei and fibre pathways of the hypothalamus and the diencephalic excito-secretory centres of the hypophysis, and insisted that the elaboration of the endocrine secretions, such as pituitary colloid, occurred through the mediation of a process which they termed neurocrinie.

Besides neurology, Roussy was particularly interested in the problem of cancer. Not only did many papers on experimental aspects of the subject come from his pen, but also a remarkable book written with Roger Leroux (1892-1951) and Maurice Wolf.

He was a member of several scientific bodies and learned societies both in France and abroad, and received honorary doctorates – honoris causa - of the universities of Geneva, Lausanne, Athens and Budapest.

Gustave Roussy had a cultivated, dignified presence and possessed great intellectual and organisational abilities. He was a stimulus to those with whom he came into contact; and at all times was ready to help and welcome those who came from France or the outside world to acquaint themselves with his work. He was greatly admired not only by his colleagues and his students in France, but also by the international elite.

We thank Patrick Jucker-Kupper, Switzerland, for information submitted.

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