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Park, Hyung Wook
Division of General Studies
Research Interests
  • History of Modern Biological Science

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"Senility and Death of Tissues Are Not a Necessary Phenomenon": Alexis Carrel and the Origins of Gerontology

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Title
"Senility and Death of Tissues Are Not a Necessary Phenomenon": Alexis Carrel and the Origins of Gerontology
Author
Park, Hyung Wook
Keywords
Aging; Alexis Carrel; Gerontology; Seniors; Tissue culture
Issue Date
201106
Publisher
KOREAN SOC HIST MED
Citation
KOREAN JOURNAL OF MEDICAL HISTORY, v.20, no.1, pp.181 - 208
Abstract
The French surgeon and Nobel laureate Alexis Carrel's tissue culture has been highly influential in biomedicine. This paper contextualizes Carrel's works with respect to the birth of gerontology during the first half of the twentieth century. I argue that Carrel contributed to gerontology in several respects. First, using his "immortal" tissues, he asserted that aging was a contingent phenomenon that could be experimentally manipulated. Although this claim was eventually challenged, it prompted many scientists to think that aging was not so much an unavoidable, unidirectional phenomenon as a process amenable to experimental approaches. Second, his research on different culture conditions required by distinct cell types encouraged the idea that the rate and mode of aging differed in distinct parts of the body. This idea became a basis of later gerontologists' claim that each senior person's job in industry should be determined according to the degree of senescence shown in his particular body parts. It also helped gerontologists make their field a multidisciplinary arena that could tackle diverse features of senescence occurring in the body. Third, Carrel's public speeches and appearance in popular media encouraged both scientists and laypeople to think that research on senescence should be pursued more systematically in an era of an increasing elderly population. By analyzing the relation of these issues to the efforts to construct gerontology, this paper illustrates tissue culture's broader meanings with respect to the emerging concerns about the aging population, the need for continued employment of seniors, and scientists' hopes for controlling senile processes.
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ISSN
1225-505X
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