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A Boys Bestfriend

A Historical Vignette of Louis Pasteur Click to edit Master subtitle By: MELISSA E. NANONG style

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Historical vignettes

are stories that describe a brief episode from the life of a scientist which characterizes the nature of science, demonstrates scientific attributes, and provides students with a historical perspective of the topic illustrated.

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A Boys Bestfriend

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Louis Pasteur had been known to most people. What did Louis Pasteur contribute to science? (Most students will say pasteurized milk.) Well, I will tell you another story about Dr. Pasteur, few people have heard. How many of you have a dog at home as a pet? (Wait and tally raised hands.) At the age of 63, Louis Pasteur made a great discovery,

Let's listen on the conversation when Dr. Pasteur is consulting with his two colleagues, Dr. Vulpain and Dr. Grancher, about a young patient who was brought to him the previous day. "Pasteur, the boy just arrived. He's been bitten quite severely by a mad dog, (Ask: Does the word mad only mean angry? Wait for student answers and clarify.) That it was mad was confirmed by our autopsy of the animal. Its stomach contained wood and straw," Dr. Grancher reported.

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"I still can't decide whether to go ahead and inoculate him with the rabies virus. It's never been done before on humans. I have had success with dogs, but they are quite different from humans. I can't decide. My friends, what do you think?" (Teachers note: the word inoculate means to introduce living microorganisms in a host organism in order to treat a disease; in a vaccination, those microbes are first killed, inactivated, or attenuated before being introduced.)

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At this point, stop the story. Ask your students to analyze the situation. Possible questions are: Should Pasteur inoculate the child? Why or why not? Why are other mammals (e.g. dogs, guinea pigs, rats) often used as models of the human body? Should science use laboratory animals for medical research? All answers that students can substantiate with evidence should be entertained at this point and students should be encouraged to raise questions and answer other students' questions. The objective is to get the listener involved in the story and generate a discussion about science. After sampling your students' inferences, predictions, and the reasoning that 3/7/12

Dr. Vulpain, well-known among the doctors for his logical thinking, suggested this: "We know this much. If the child remains untreated, he will die. If you do treat him, he may survive. I say take the chance. Your previous experiments were carefully performed. You have used control animals and experimental animals; you have kept accurate cords of your work. I have confidence in you and faith in the treatment you are proposing." "I completely agree," Dr. Grancher flatly stated. "Proceed."
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Pasteur became angry at the thought of the rabies disease claiming the life of such an innocent child. He decided he must not delay. The advice of his colleagues, his own diagnosis, his prognosis for the patient, and the search he had done on this disease all led him to the same conclusion: he must attempt to save the child's life. (Teachers note: a prognosis is a prediction of the probable course a disease will take; a diagnosis is the identification of a disease by evidence or analysis.)

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Pasteur had discovered that if the spinal cord of a killed rabid dog was preserved in dry air, the virulence (or infective power) of the rabies virus in the tissue decreased day by day. So, as he had previously done with the laboratory dogs he had treated, he injected the child with an emulsion of the spinal cord of a dog that had died of rabies 15 days earlier. A long and weary night passed, but at dawn the child was still alive. On succeeding days, other inoculations were made with progressively more infectious spinal cord emulsions made from dogs that had died from rabies more recently. On the 10th day, Pasteur injected the boy with an emulsion made from the spinal cord of a rabid dog 3/7/12

The next months passed slowly for Pasteur, but his patient continued to get stronger. After three months and three days, Pasteur triumphantly announced that the child was out of danger and appeared to be in excellent health. Ever since, many lives have been saved because of Pasteur's work in understanding how to prevent death from rabies.

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Possible questions include: What comparisons can be drawn between today's health care (biomedical) research and that done in Pasteur's day? What do you think would have happened if Pasteur had decided against giving the boy the inoculation? What characteristics of a good scientist do you see in this story? What inferences about Louis Pasteur's character can you draw from this story? What did this vignette teach you about the nature 3/7/12 of science?

Thank you!

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