Armand Frappier: pioneer of preventive medicine

His schooling

Armand FrappierZoomZoom
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Medical caseZoomZoom
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Saranac LakeZoomZoom
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Trudeau sanatorium in the State of NYMovie ClipMovie Clip
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TravelsMovie ClipMovie Clip
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Boat tripZoomZoom
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Laboratory manipulations by Dr. FrappierMovie ClipMovie Clip
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Trip to the Institut Pasteur de ParisMovie ClipMovie Clip
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At age 6, Armand started school with the Sisters of Providence. His father insisted he repeat the fourth grade, judging that his marks were not up to par. Armand Frappier completed his "études classiques" at the Collège de Valleyfield, and finished among the top students in his class.

A career choice marked by pain

It was in college, from the first introductory courses in chemistry, that Armand Frappier discovered his passion for this branch of science. He set up a laboratory in the stable behind his house, where he could conduct experiments at his leisure. He thought he had found his calling. Unfortunately, Armand Frappier’s life and family had been affected by a black cloud: tuberculosis6. Without access to a vaccine to prevent the disease or treatments to cure it, Armand Frappier’s mother died from it in May, 1923, at 40 years of age. Armand Frappier was only 19 years old. This tremendous loss followed the loss of his little brother and his grandmother, both of whom succumbed to the same disease. During the same period of time, he suffered the loss of other close family members. He described these deaths as a black and trying period in his life. Armand Frappier would become not a chemist, but a doctor.

His studies in medicine at the Université de Montréal

In 1924, he therefore registered as a student in the faculty of medicine at the Université de Montréal. From that moment on, he would pursue his fight against this “tueuse de maman” (mother killer).

In June 1930, after 5 years of study and work, he finally got his doctor’s diploma. But there was still a long way to go in order to realize his dream of doing research. In order to improve his knowledge of the basic sciences, he enrolled immediately in a one-year program to obtain certificates in biochemistry, physical chemistry, and mathematics.

1931 : An encounter that shaped his career

"One day, as I was talking with the physiology professor, Dr. Elie Asselin, he said: "If you want to find a solution to tuberculosis, you won’t find it with chemistry, but with microbiology." Two days later I went and put my destiny in the hands of the Dean of Medicine of the Unversité de Montréal, Dr. Telesphore Parizeau, who welcomed me with open arms. He helped me get a scholarship from the Rockefeller Foundation so that I could go and study in the United States."

Dr. Télesphore Parizeau had himself studied at the Institut Pasteur in Paris.

In the thirties, Quebec was unable to offer a more complete education to its graduates. The young Dr. Frappier had to look elsewhere – to the place where the development of science was beginning to accelerate – in order to acquire the knowledge he needed to attack tuberculosis.

His studies at the University of Rochester

In the early 1930s, a grant from the Rockfeller Foundation opened doors for him in the American laboratories at the University of Rochester N.Y. Memorial University, financed by Kodak, was rich and well equipped. The Université de Montréal, on the other hand, was poor and decrepit, and research there was poorly developed — an enormous contrast. Armand Frappier told himself that he would have a stimulating challenge in order to improve things when he returned home! During this learning period in the United States, he interned in the microbiology laboratories of several renowned researchers, many of whom were staunchly opposed to the BCG vaccine.

His trip to the Institut Pasteur

The BCG vaccine, developed and perfected at the Institut Pasteur in Paris, was the first live weakened vaccine to be used. The Americans, led by Dr. Petroff, were worried about its widespread use. They feared that, given time, the bacillus would regain its virulence (its power to cause the disease). After decades of being used in total safety, the fear of the BCG vaccine still persists in the United States.

Dr. Petroff, a great opponent to the use of BCG, died of tuberculosis. Dr. Frappier trained in his laboratory in 1932.

When Dr. Frappier arrived at the Institut Pasteur, the BCG vaccine had been in successful use for eight years. Dr. Negre’s experiments, after those of Calmette and Guerin, had proven the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine, and had shown that the Americans' great fear of seeing the virulence reappear was unfounded. The Institut Pasteur was at the very heart of microbiology and of the fight against tuberculosis. This was quite an experience for Dr. Frappier, because this was when he learned to produce the BCG vaccine. Convinced that we finally had an efficient weapon against tuberculosis, Dr. Frappier returned to the country with very precious baggage: a flask containing a strain of the famous BCG!

"We arrived in Montreal on January 1, 1933, after a transatlantic crossing during which the Carinthia met such a storm that water was entering by the windows in the living room."

"During these studies abroad, I had not only opened my mind, but I also became more familiar with the experimental method. I had become friends with my professors and they had promised me their help. I followed their advice and kept in touch with them until their deaths. I brought a strain of BCG from the Institut Pasteur back with me."

His postgraduate studies

He pursued his postdoctoral studies, taking advanced courses in mathematics, biology, and biochemistry. At the beginning of 1933, he obtained his Bachelor of Science, composed of three study certificates, from the Université de Montréal.

In 1933, Dr. Frappier was the first North American researcher solicited by the National Research Council of Canada to confirm the quality and effectiveness of the BCG vaccine and to develop a safe production process. The Institut Pasteur entrusted Dr. Frappier with a BCG strain that he brought back to Canada in order to produce a live but attenuated vaccine here. Dr. Frappier was a supporter of the rational application of antituberculosis vaccination by BCG in Canada.