Sue Young Histories

Paul Degrais 1874 - 1954

October 04, 2009

St. Louis Hospital, ParisPaul Degrais 1874 - 1954 was a French orthodox physician, Professor at the St. Louis Hospital, Paris, who worked on the principles of afterloading and crossfire, cornerstones of modern brachytherapy, to more clearly define the principle of this technique, which underlies most radiotherapy treatments (including brachytherapy, X-ray therapy and stereotactic radiosurgery).

Degrais was a friend of homeopath Leon Vannier, as homeopaths had been deeply involved with radium treatment since Emile Grubbe began his experiments in 1896.

Degrais was a colleague of Hermann Strebel (who should be given priority for first performing afterloading and crossfire), Frank Edward Simpson, Louis Wickham,

The story that Pierre Curie’s grandfather homeopath Paul Francois Curie was the first person to study Radium is based on an error made by John Henry Clarke, who attributed the first experiments in radium to Paul Francois Curie in his book _Radium as an Internal Remedy _in 1908. However, this must be an error – as Paul Francois Curie died in 1853, and Wilhelm Conrad Rontgen’s discovery of X-rays was in 1895, and Antoine Henri Becquerel‘s discovery of radioactivity was in 1896. Radium was discovered in 1898 and isolated 1902.

Nonetheless, Pierre Curie and Marie Curie had a long history of homeopathic research to base their experiments on. Paul Francois Curie’s grandsons Pierre Curie and his brother Paul Jacques Curie invented the Piezoelectric Quartz Electrometer, which Marie Curie used to extract radium from pitchblende in 1898.

However, homeopaths had been experimenting with Uranium as a treatment for diabetes since 1860 (Anon, The North American Journal of Homeopathy, Volume 10; on nitrate of uranium in diabetes, (American Medical Union, 1862). Page 384.). In 1896, the sad experiments of homeopath Emile Grubbe would have been well publicised in the press. Emile Grubbe was the first person to use lead as protection against x rays.  Emile Grubbe also recommended x-ray for the treatment of acne and on Lupus VulgarisEmile Grubbe, in consultation with his colleagues at the Hahnemann Medical College of ChicagoJoseph Puttee Cobb, R Ludman and J. E Gilman decided to try x ray to treat breast cancer. Emile Grubbe also tried x ray in the treatment of urinary calculi, cancer of the wristcancer of the uterus and deleriumEmile Grubbe was the originator of the Memorial Award of the Chicago Radioloical Society. Despite horrible disfigurement from his own experimentation, Emile Grubbe eventually had to give up lecturing after his body was made ‘a testing laboratory’ for the poorly understood effects of x-ray.

Gynaecological radium applicators were first designed in 1904, by Louis Wickham (1861-1913) & Paul Degrais (1874-1954) of St. Louis Hospital, Paris. They were remarkable in that the vaginal & uterine parts of the applicator were fixed to each other and were not unattached [hence requiring gauze packing to keep them in their correction position].

Apart from the Munich pin-and-plate applicators of the 1920s, it was to be the 1950s with the development of the original Gilbert Fletcher (1911-1992) radium applicators before vaginal & uterine applicators were again routinely fixed to each other.

Degrais wrote Le Radium son emploi dans le Traitement du Cancer des angiomes, chéloïdes, tuberculoses locales et d’autres affections with Louis Wickham, and he inscribed a copy for Leon Vannier:

First edition of this pioneering text in radiotherapy, issued as part of Les Actualités Médicales series, this copy inscribed by Paul Degrais to a leading French homeopath, Leon Vannier.

Louis Wickham, a French dermatologist and pioneer of radium therapy, began treating tumours and gynaecological conditions with radium in 1908. He and his younger colleague Degrais were among the first clinicians to treat human conditions with ‘radiumtherapy’ having obtained radium from the Curies.

Louis Wickham died in 1913, several months before his colleague Degrais inscribed this copy to Leon Vannier. The work also appeared in an English translation printed in London in the same year. It was preceded by the larger work Radiumthérapie; instrumentation, technique, traitement des cancers, chéloïdes, naevi, lupus, prurits, névrodermites, eczémas, applications gynécologiques (Paris, 1909).

Degrais shared his research with Frank Edward Simpson, President of the American Radium Society, Professor of Dermatology at the Chicago Polyclinic, Attending Dermatologist at the Mercy Hospital (and others), who referenced his work from homeopathic sources, quoting the papers by Schlegel (Unsere Radiumtlierapie, Berl. Homeopath. Ztsehr., 1912, iii, 1-13.  Fchlesinger, Erich: Ueber den gegenwartigen Stand der Radiumtlierapie bosartiger), and  Radium in Surgery and Gynecology, Jour. Am. Inst. Homeopathy, 1916, ix, 599-616.

Frank Edward Simpson writes: ”I wish also to express at this time my appreciation of the great kindness of several of my colleagues and friends. Dr. Paul Degrais and Dr. Bellot of Paris have generously loaned me the drawings of microscopic  sections, taken from their own immense material, which are reproduced in this book…

The principle of filtration and the use of screens in the treatment of diseased tissue may be referred to at this point. Louis Wickham, Degrais and Dominiei were apparently the first to use and advocate the employment of rays obtained by filtration…

Louis Wickham and Degrais were the first to point out that important modifications of vital tissue such as resolution of a tumor may be caused by the surface application of the rays without the supervention of visible inflammation. Hence, they called this action of the rays a “selective action.”

Louis Wickham also collaboraed widely with homeopaths in this reaseach, and he and Degrais were happy to entertain homeopaths when they visited their clinic,