Biography of Jean-Louis-Marc Alibert
Baron Jean-Louis Marc Alibert
Having first decided on the priesthood as a career, Alibert was educated at the Congrégation des Pères de la doctrine chrétienne, but, as this order was dissolved by the revolution, Alibert, at the age of 26 years came to Paris to begin his study of medicine. He was a student of several famous medical men, among them Pierre Joseph Desault (1774)-1795), Marie Francois Xavier Bichat (1771-1892), Philippe Pinel (1745-1826), and Baron Jean-Nicolas Corvisart des Marest (1755-1821).
In 1798, while still a student Alibert was co-founder of the Société médicale d’émulation de Paris of which he was a secretary for many years, and made a number of contributions to the society’s Mémoires. The Mémoires ran from 1796 to 1828 (volumes 1– 9.
His doctoral thesis of 1799, Dissertation sur les fièvres pernicieuses, ou ataxiques intermittentes, was such a success that it subsequently appeared in five improved and enlarged editions (1801, 1804, 1809, 1820) and in 1808 was translated into English by Charles Caldwell in Philadelphia.
In 1802 Alibert was appointed médecin adjoint to the Hôpital Saint-Louis in Paris, then called the Hospice du Nord). At one time a sort of annexe to the Hôtel-Dieu, it was set aside for patients with the most chronic disorders, including skin conditions, syphilis, leprosy, etc. As soon as he took office Alibert began to limit the intake of patients with skin disorders, and he initiated lectures on this subject. Thus began his orientation towards dermatology, until then non-existent as a specialty. Attending his lecture-demonstrations became as fashionable as visiting asylums for the insane. Even the King in exile became aware of his activities, and with the restoration of the monarchy in 1815 Alibert was appointed physician to Louis XVIII, and to his successor Charles X in 1824. He was created baron in 1828 for his services to Louis. Because there was no chair in dermatology in Paris he was by royal decree appointed professor of materia medica and therapeutics in 1823, a professorship he retained until his death.
Alibert did his work on diseases of the skin at time when Willan's system was still unknown in France. His clinic, established about 1818, which in summer took place under the shadows of the hospital linden, attracted large flocks of students, local people and physicians. Contrary to Robert Willan (1757-1812), whose system was based on pathological anatomy, Alibert preferred to divide by appearance. He attempted to introduce Jussieu's classification in the classification of diseases, and further to diseases of the skin. He divides them into families, genera, and species, and introduced a large number of new designations.
Alibert’s royal duties interrupted his work at the Hôpital Saint-Louis. During his absence his friend Laurent Théodore Biett (1781-1840), the leading clinical teacher at this time, filled his place. Biett adapted the classification of skin disease introduced in 1796 by Robert Willan. Alibert had used his own classification in his most important work, Descriptions des maladies de la peau, ... published in between 1806 and 1827, a classic because of its illustrations. Its hand-coloured illustrations, unsurpassed for their quality of execution were the first on the subject in a French book.
He classified the dermatoses - a term coined by him - according to their outer appearance, dividing them in families, generations and species. He originated several terms, like the term asbestos rash. Several of his descriptions seem somewhat exaggerated, probably a result of his excitement at researching a practically virginal field.
Besides this fundamental importance to the development of dermatology, Alibert also contributed significantly to the spreading of vaccination against smallpox. His extensive literary work also comprises biographies of his famous colleagues Lazare Spellanzani and Luigi Galvani.