Andrè Cournand

The Conjunction of Air and Blood in the Lung


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André Cournand (1895-1988) was a French physician. Working at the Bellevue Hospital in New York since 1934, he became an American citizen in 1941 and remained in the United States until the end of his life. In New York, Cournand became interested in a research theme that he should remain faithful to for his entire scientific career: the human cardiovascular system. Together with his supervisor and later Nobel-Prize co-recipient Dickinson Richards, Cournand studied the impact of various pathologic conditions on circulation. However, the measurement of important variables such as blood pressure or oxygen content was not yet feasible inside the heart of a living person. Instead, indirect methods relying on peripheral measurements had to be used.

For Cournand, Richards and co-workers it was apparent that a solution to this issue was needed. In this context they became aware of a reckless self-experiment that had been published already in 1929. In the paper, the German surgeon Werner Forßmann described how he had inserted a caoutchouc catheter into a vein of his upper arm and had pushed it 65cm towards his heart. Supported by x-ray images, the catheter had then been pushed even further until it reached Forßmann’s right heart chamber. Recognizing the potential behind the self-experiment, Cournand and Richards developed Forßmann’s approach into the now well-accepted technique of heart catheterization. This allowed them to study conditions such as secondary wound shock or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) [1]. In 1956, Forßmann, Cournand and Richards eventually shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine.

Cournand divides the present talk into two major parts, both following the general theme of “the conjunction of air and blood in the lung”. In the first part, a historical review of corresponding research is given, in the second own contributions to the field from more than 30 years of work are summarized. Cournand’s historical review reaches far back in time, to the 5th century BC, when arteries and veins were first distinguished. He covers the ancient Greek and Arabic discoveries with some detail and by discussing the distinguished contributions of great names such as Boyle, Lavoisier, Priestley arrives at the level of knowledge in the year of his talk. In a rather technical second part Cournand then elaborates on own achievements such as the measurement of the maximum respiratory volume in men.

Interestingly, Cournand’s Nobel Prize co-recipient Werner Forßmann, who also lectured at the 1966 Nobel Laureate Meeting, did not dedicate his lecture to issues associated to heart catheterization, but rather discussed the history of surgery.

David Siegel

[1] http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1956/press.html


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