Despite atrocities as child & criticism from bacteriologists, he risked his life & saved people's from Cholera & plague!!!
Posted October 25th, 2014
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Waldemar Mordecai Wolff Haffkine, CIE (15 March 1860, Odessa, Russian Empire - 26 October 1930, Lausanne, Switzerland) was a Russian Empire Jewish bacteriologist He emigrated and worked at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, where he developed an anti-cholera vaccine that he tried out successfully in India. He is recognized as the first microbiologist who developed and used vaccines against cholera and bubonic plague. He tested the vaccines on himself. Lord Joseph Lister named him "a saviour of humanity".

He was knighted in Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee year Honours in 1897. The Jewish Chronicle of that time noted "a Russian Jew, trained in the schools of European science, saves the lives of helpless Hindus and Mohammedans and is decorated by the descendant of William the Conqueror and Alfred the Great".

Born Vladimir Aaronovich Chavkin,  to Aaron and Rosalie (née Landsberg) in a family of a Jewish schoolmaster in Odessa, Russian Empire (now Ukraine), he received his education in Odessa, Berdyansk and St. Petersburg. Young Haffkine was also a member of the Jewish League for Self-Defense. Haffkine was injured while defending a Jewish home during a pogrom. As a result of this action he was arrested but later released due to the intervention of Ilya Mechnikov.

Haffkine continued his studies with famous biologist Ilya Mechnikov. Mechnikov left the country for Pasteur Institute in Paris. In 1888, Haffkine was allowed to emigrate to Switzerland and began his work at the University of Geneva. In 1889 he joined Mechnikov and Louis Pasteur in Paris. Haffkine began his scientific career as a protozoologist and protistologist, under the tutelage of Ilya Mechnikov at Imperial Novorossiya University in Odessa and later at the Pasteur Institute in Paris. His early research was on protists such as Astasia, Euglena, and Paramecium, as well as the earliest studies on Holospora, a bacterial parasite of Paramecium. In the early 1890s, Haffkine shifted his attention to studies in practical bacteriology.

The euglenid genus Khawkinea is named in honor of Haffkine's early studies of euglenids, first published in French journals with the author name translated from cyrillic as "Mardochée-Woldemar Khawkine". At the time, one of the five great cholera pandemics of the 19th century ravaged Asia and Europe. Even though Robert Koch discovered Vibrio cholerae in 1883, the medical science at that time did not consider it a sole cause of the disease. This view was supported by experiments by several biologists, notably Jaume Ferran i Clua in Spain.

Haffkine focused his research on developing cholera vaccine and produced an attenuated form of the bacterium. Risking his own life, on July 18, 1892, Haffkine performed the first human test on himself and reported his findings on July 30 to the Biological Society. Even though his discovery caused an enthusiastic stir in the press, it was not widely accepted by his senior colleagues, including both Mechnikov and Pasteur, nor by European official medical establishment in France, Germany and Russia.

The scientist decided to move to India where hundreds of thousands died from ongoing epidemics. He managed to vaccinate about 25,000 volunteers, most of whom survived. After contracting malaria, Haffkine had to return to France. In his August 1895 report to Royal College of Physicians in London about the results of his Indian expedition, Haffkine dedicated his successes to Pasteur, who recently had died. In March 1896, against his doctor's advice, Haffkine returned to India and performed 30,000 vaccinations in seven months.

"Unlike tetanus or diphtheria, which were quickly neutralized by effective vaccines by the 1920's, the immunological aspects of bubonic plague proved to be much more daunting." In October 1896, an epidemic of bubonic plague struck Mumbai and the government asked Haffkine to help. He embarked upon the development of a vaccine in a makeshift laboratory in a corridor of Grant Medical College. In three months of persistent work (one of his assistants experienced a nervous breakdown, two others quit), a form for human trials was ready and on January 10, 1897 Haffkine tested it on himself.

"Haffkine's vaccine used a small amount of the bacteria to produce an immune reaction." After these results were announced to the authorities, volunteers at the Byculla jail were inoculated and survived the epidemics, while seven inmates of the control group died. "Like others of these early vaccines, the Haffkine formulation had nasty side effects, and did not provide complete protection, though it was said to have reduced risk by up to 50 percent."

Haffkine's successes in fighting the ongoing epidemics were indisputable, but some officials still insisted on old methods based on sanitarianism: washing homes by fire hose with lime, herding affected and suspected persons into camps and hospitals, and restricting travel.

Even though the official Russia was still unsympathetic to his research, Haffkine's Russian colleagues doctors V.K. Vysokovich and D.K. Zabolotny visited him in Bombay. During the 1898 cholera outbreak in the Russian Empire, the vaccine called "limfa Havkina", Havkin's lymph; saved thousands of lives across the empire.

By the turn of the 20th century, the number of inoculees in India alone reached four million and doctor Haffkine was appointed the Director of the Plague Laboratory in Mumbai (now called Haffkine Institute). Haffkine was the first to prepare a vaccine for human prophylaxis by killing virulent culture by heat at 60 °C. The major limit of his vaccine was the lack of activity against pulmonary forms of plague.

Since Haffkine's post in Mumbai was already occupied, he moved to Calcutta and worked there until his retirement in 1914. Professor Haffkine returned to France and later moved to Lausanne, where he spent the last years of his life. During his brief visit to the Soviet Union in 1927, he found drastic changes in the country of his birth.

Haffkine received numerous honors and awards. In 1925, the Plague Laboratory in Mumbai, Maharashtra was renamed the Haffkine Institute. In commemoration of the centennial of his birth, Haffkine Park was planted in Israel in 1960s.


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