It was immediately apparent to Pierre Rayer and his friend, the chemist Théophile-Jules Pelouze that with his failure to gain a university teaching post, Bernard's research potential would be lost forever. They approached a mutual friend by the name of Henri Martin, a successful physician who served the privileged and titled of Paris. His daughter was unmarried at age thirty, and would surely come with an attractive dowry. An 'arranged marriage' would sustain Bernard: it would allow their protégé to work under Magendie's protective wing, from where he could then show the research world what he was really worth.
Unaware that this plot was being hatched, Bernard was happy when Pelouze offered him temporary bench space to continue (with the help of Pelouze's assistant, Charles-Louis Barreswill) studies on the nature of gastric acidity6,9,TMB3. He reached the incorrect conclusion that it was lactic rather than hydrochloric acid that was responsible for the acidity of gastric juice, an error which he later correctedTMB20,t.1,p397. Rayer also helped him to find some work doing detailed anatomical dissections. These were sketched by the lithographer Jacob for Bourgery's highly successful anatomy atlasTMB5 (Bernard was not mentioned as a contributor in the first edition - only some twenty years later in the second edition - once he had achieved appropriate fame!). He made other dissections which were later used to illustrate the 1856 publication of Huette's manual of surgeryTMB14.
At the Collège, Bernard also helped Magendie with experiments on the phenomenon of recurrent sensitivity of spinal nerve roots: a project that later led to his own studies on that subject17,18,33. He also worked on another of Magendie's projects: probing the actions of the tenth and eleventh cranial nerves on the vocal chords (here, an unusually crude error by Bernard led to an erroneous conclusion that the eleventh nerve played a role in vocal cord movement). This work and the resulting paper7 paradoxically won him his first - and quite lucrative - prize in physiology from the Académie des Sciences. To try and generate further income, Bernard joined Lasègue in setting up a private physiology teaching laboratory. That failed however: only six students ever registered for their course.
When Pelouze finally suggested to Bernard that he might marry the still-unseen Fanny Martin, one can only imagine his surprise and dilemma: nor have his reactions to meeting the young lady and her family been documented. It must have been clear to him however, that it was the only way that he could further his research career. After a modest ceremony in May 1845 that neither of his parents attended, the young couple established themselves in number 5, rue du Pont de Lodi with a dowry of 60,000 francs and an income of 5000 francs a year. All this, together with another 10,000 francs in donations was entrusted to Bernard (at that time one franc had somewhat more purchasing power than one euro).
Bernard was now very content; his mind eager to probe the unknown. One day, Pelouze presented him with some curare-tipped arrows which a colleague had brought back from South America: perhaps Bernard might experiment to understand exactly how curare killed its victims? Using a variety of experimental animals, it did not take him long to discover that it was a nerve poison which was quite selective for motor nerves: those which trigger muscle contraction42. Curare paralyzed breathing and its unfortunate victims, fully conscious, were dying a horrible death from asphyxia! With his friend Pelouze, he drafted his first definitive article on the subject, which was only published several years later61.
Next on the nutritional agenda was work on the pancreas gland. He began with a detailed study of the comparative anatomy of that organ, and for the first time perfected the procedure of making pancreatic fistulae - exteriorizing the pancreatic duct. He used this to establish the effect of this pancreatic fluid on digestion of carbohydrate and other nutrients64. While operating on the abdomen of a rabbit, Bernard had noticed milky chyle in its lacteal vessels indicative of a high content of emulsified fat; yet only in the lacteal vessels that left the bowel below that animal's unusually low point of entry of the pancreatic duct. That finding immediately suggested that pancreatic juice was important in the in the digestion of fat, and he went on to confirm his idea22,31.
In the course of his studies on this subject, he tried to remove the entire pancreas. It was a difficult operation, and the animals usually died quickly53. One that survived rather longer before perishing lost an immense amount of weight, which Bernard attributed to defective absorption of nutrients - in other words, malabsorption. We might now wonder if he had unknowingly induced diabetes by his surgery. Of course, the existence of insulin - and its origin in the pancreas - were only to be discovered eighty years later, so that it is not surprising that he did not suspect that condition. Traditional teaching also held that each organ had only one function: and he had himself just confirmed that the function of the pancreas was one of nutrient digestion.
His first years of research were rewarded in 1849 both by another prize in experimental physiology from the Académie des Sciences, as well as the award of Chevalier of the Légion d'Honneur (quite an honour for someone with hardly more than five years of research under his belt). Magendie was ageing and weary, and the Collège realised that he would soon need to limit his activities: Bernard was asked to be his suppléant (substitute) for the summer course of lectures.
"The scientific medicine which it is my duty to teach you does not exist..." he announced at his first lecture, explaining that more advances in understanding the 'normal' functioning of the body (its physiology) were needed, before 'medicine' could become truly scientific.
Although matters were going quite well for him in his research, this could not be said for his private life, a situation for which he was surely partly to blame. "In order to become a physiologist..." he said later in one of his writings, "...one must live in the laboratory." His wife may originally have been led to believe that Bernard's immersion in experimental work (almost all of which involved vivisection) was only a bridge to a more civilized future in clinical practice. She increasingly chastised him for his animal experiments, while holding up her father's prestigious image as a physician as the example that she had expected her husband to follow.
Fanny soon went further, becoming active in the public outcry against vivisection promoted by the influential Comte de Gramont. She joined the newly formed society for the protection of animals, the SPA, and became one of its most vocal members. Bernard failed to convince his wife that his particular experimental approach was important, despite his many discoveries that were rapidly gaining the approval of the scientific world. Was it not better to research phenomena on animals (he would plead with her) than to treat people by guesswork? The contemporary treatment of illness was nothing more than human experimentation -surely a much greater evil !
During those early years, he had his share of grief. Their first born, Louis-Henri died in 1846 after only three months of life, and a year later Bernard's father died too. Later, there was some compensation from the birth of two healthy daughters, Jeanne (always referred to as 'Tony') born in August 1847, and Marie-Louise in May 1850.
Glucose, and more...