Women Denied Scientific Glory - Dr Marthe Gautier

Posted by: Seraya Maouche | Last updated on: 2nd July 2015

Note: This page is still under construction.


Dr Marthe Gautier

Dr Marthe Gautier

Discovery of Trisomy 21

Born September 10th, 1925

French Pediatric Cardiologist, Anatomopathology Specialist, and Researcher

Early Life and Education

Marthe Gautier was born in rural region in France on September 10, 1925. Her father was farmer, and she was the fifth of seven children. She first developed interest in studying Latin but in 1942 she joined her sister Paulette who was completing her medical studies in Paris. Paulette Gautier was killed during the Second World War.

At Harvard University

After submitting and defending her thesis in pediatric cardiology in 1955 under the direction of Prof Robert Debré, the later, in charge of pediatrics in France at the time, obtained for her a scholarship for one year at Harvard University. During this period she acquired knowledge in pediatric cardiology and developed new skills in cell culture.

Fig1. Marthe Gautier in 1956 before
moving to USA [Courtesy of Marthe Gautier].

At Trousseau hospital

Who really decoded Down´s syndrome?

Carrier at INSERM

Fig1. Marthe Gautier in 1956 before
moving to USA [Courtesy of Marthe Gautier].

Discovery of Trisomy 21 and announcement of results

Who really decoded Down´s syndrome?

The disagreement over the discovery of the cause of
Down´s syndrome

This section is under construction.

In Bordeaux, with the bailiffs sent by Lejeune Foundation

On 31th of January 2014, Dr Marthe Gautier was invited by the French Federation of Human Genetics (FFGH) to the 7th Human and Medical Genetics Congress in Bordeaux to receive an award (Fig. 1) for her contribution to the discovery of Trisomy 21. Lejeune Foundation (a Down syndrome support organization based in Paris), that attributes this discovery to Jérôme Lejeune (who passed away in 1994), has sent bailiffs to FFGH in order to record the award ceremony and Gautier´s talk. The organizers decided to call off at the last minute this ceremony. A day later Prof Alain Bernheim, president of the French Society of Human Genetics, visited Dr Marthe Gautier to give her the award at her home in Paris (Fig. 2). He was

Fig2. Award from the French Federation of Human
Genetics (FFGH) [Courtesy of Marthe Gautier].

Dr Gautier with Prof Bernheim
Fig3. Dr Marthe Gautier with Prof Alain Bernheim
at her home in Paris [Courtesy of Marthe Gautier]. Prof Bernheim
was accompanied by his daughter, Aude Bernheim, who took this picture.

In an article published by Science on Feb. 14th 2014, Elisabeth Pain wrote :
"After calling off Gautier´s talk and the award ceremony, FFGH issued a statement saying it would have been "unacceptable" to hold the ceremony under the threat of a legal suit. But the federation also said it "bitterly regretted" the cancellation and condemned the use of legal power to put pressure on a scientific meeting"
Sylvestre Huet, a science journalist at Libération, who discussed this issue in an article entitled "the case Marthe Gautier/Trismy 21 resurfaced", published on 30 september 2014, wrote
"The Lejeune Foundation develops an extremely aggressive attitude, probably in connection with its beatification request to the Vatican to reward Jerome Lejeune, an anti-abortion activist more than a scientist..".

He added,

"After the announcement of referral to the INSERM´s Ethics Committee, the direction of Inserm has received from Lejeune Foundation a threatening letter, in which it announced the suspension or termination of grants to Inserm teams if the Ethics Committee respond to that referral.."

Report of the Ethics Committee of INSERM

In 2014, the Ethics Committee of the French Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM) has published a report about the issue of Trisomy 21. After receiving a referral from a group of researchers, the INSERM´s Ethics Committee headed by Prof Hervé Chneiweiss issued, on September 14th 2014, an Opinion explaining the role of Marthe Gautier in the discovery of Trisomy 21.

"The discovery of trisomy 21 could not be made without the essential contributions of Raymond Turpin and Marthe Gautier. It is regrettable that their names were not consistently associated with this discovery in both communication and the attribution of various honors." - The INSERM´s Ethics Committee"

The Legion of Honor

In 2014, Marthe Gautier received the Legion of Honor, France´s highest decoration. Prof Claudine Hermann from Femmes & Sciences decorated her on 16 september 2014 at Trousseau hospital where Dr Marthe Gautier conducted her research until the discovery of trisomy 21 in 1959.

Legion of honor
Fig4. Legion of Honor [Courtesy of Marthe Gautier].

"Marthe Gautier gave me the honor by choosing me to decorate her"

Said Prof Claudine Hermann during the decoration ceremony, she added:

"I had heard a couple of years ago about Marthe Gautier. For my friends of the association Women & Science and myself, she is an example of a woman who had participated to a great discovery in collaboration with male colleagues and had difficulties to recognize her contribution. Similar cases of womens, who have died, exists. One of these women, Rosalind Franklin (1920-1958), the british scientist who worked with James Crick, Francis Watson, and Maurice Wilkins in the discovery of the double helix structure of DNA. Another example is Lise Meitner (1878-1968), an Austrian naturalized as a Swedish citizen, who participated with Otto Hahn in the discovery of atomic fission. The big difference, however, is that Marthe is with and today, the Republic is honoring her professional and scientific career, and in particular her decisive contribution, with Raymond Turpin and Jérôme Lejeune, in the discovery of Trisomy 21, responsible for what was earlier called "Mongolism". "

The text of the speech given by Prof Claudine Hermann during the decoration ceremony is available here.

Claudine Hermann decorating M Gautier
Fig4. Prof Claudine Hermann decorating
Dr Marthe Gautier at Trousseau Hospital [Courtesy of Marthe Gautier].

Marthe Gautier received congratulations from:

It is important to note here that Dr Marthe Gautier refused this honor in the past. Afer the events of Bordeaux, she decided

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