Jean Aicardi (1926–2015)
By Alexis Arzimanoglou
A Pioneer in Child Neurology
Jean Aicardi, a clinician, clinical investigator and educator, left us on 3rd August 2015 at the age of 88. He was one of the most insightful clinicians of his time, who had witnessed the birth of child neurology as an entirely new field of medicine.
Professor Aicardi had a passionate, life-long commitment to child neurology and clinical epileptology. He obtained his medical degree in 1955 at the Faculté de Médecine de Paris. He worked as a Research Fellow at the Harvard Medical School, headed the Pediatric Neurology Unit at the University Hospital Necker-Enfants Malades in Paris, was Director of Research at the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research INSERM (1986–1991) and was an Honorary Professor of Child Neurology at the Institute of Child Health, London UK (1992–1998).
Jean Aicardi was a pioneer in child neurology who contributed significantly to the description of several neurological entities including Aicardi syndrome in 1969; Aicardi-Goutières syndrome in 1984; Rett syndrome (together with Bengt Hagberg); alternating hemiplegia of childhood and others.
He authored or co-authored three internationally recognized books: Aicardi’s Epilepsy in Children, Diseases of the Nervous System in Childhood, and Movement Disorders in Children. He published 259 articles in major international, peer-reviewed journals, and over 100 book chapters.
Jean Aicardi authored the first edition of Diseases of the Nervous System in Childhood in 1992. His book rapidly became a premier reference tool for those clinicians around the world who were fascinated by the highly complex field of study – the developing nervous system.
Only six years later in his preface to the second edition (1998), Aicardi wrote “… the pace of progress both in medicine and in communication techniques has been so fast in the past few years that there are those who wonder whether books are still useful. They argue that new data are accumulating so rapidly that only computerized databases and networks can permit users to keep abreast of current developments in basic and clinical sciences, and that books are irredeemably condemned to be outdated even at the time of publication”.
A third edition followed in 2009 because, as Aicardi was already arguing in 1998, “… immediate availability of such an overwhelming volume of information may be a mixed blessing as assessment of the quality and relevance is left to the judgement of each user, whereas books may be of some help in soliciting the most important data and giving an idea of their organization and significance, assuming that the author’s choices are backed by a certain experience and provided they are not excessively biased ”.
Jean Aicardi was awarded several academic honors and distinctions including the Hower Award of the American Child Neurology Society (1986), the Epilepsy Research Award of the American Epilepsy Society (1995), the Ramon y Cajal Award, the International League Against Epilepsy-International Bureau for Epilepsy (ILAE-IBE) Ambassador for Epilepsy Award and the ILAE-IBE Life Achievement Award.
As a teacher Jean Aicardi believed in what he called the ‘members of the young generation’ and in 1999 he easily accepted the invitation to become the Founding Editor of an epilepsy journal devoted to electroclinical semiology of the epilepsies, Epileptic Disorders, which today is the educational journal of the ILAE. At various times in his career, he was a member of the Editorial Boards of the journals Brain, Brain and Development, Epilepsia, Neuropediatrics, Pediatric Neurology and Journal of Child Neurology.
Jean Aicardi treated everyone with respect. He was always available and willing to provide thoughtful and humble advice to his colleagues and students, to the families that he deeply respected and the sick children he cared about so much. Aicardi had eight brothers and sisters, two of whom died in infancy and another of whom died in a German labour camp in 1945. He loved and respected his family. He was a loving husband and suffered enormously from the loss of his wife, Jeanne Couturier, in 2011.
Clinician and Teacher
A tireless clinician and teacher, ‘Monsieur Aicardi’ will be remembered not only as one of the founders of child neurology but also as the mentor of more than 100 child neurologists all over the world. His clinical ward rounds will remain unforgettable to many of us. He was the one who taught us that ‘a major part of examination, and one too often neglected, consists of watching spontaneous activity of the child … the best manner of assessing CNS function and behaviour’. He strongly believed, and he was so right, that in this era of ubiquitous technology, careful observation of clinical signs and symptoms and their correct interpretation, based upon thorough knowledge, remain as essential as ever.
A Personal Note
On a more personal note, allow me to thank my mentor and friend. He allowed me to share with him more than 30 years of teaching, discussions on differential diagnosis, on treatment, in writing papers and books. But above all, he shared with me important moments of our private lives. He was always present when I needed him. When the third edition of Diseases of the Nervous System was published in 2009, I had just moved to Lyon to work on the development of a clinical epileptology and neurophysiology department. When he offered me a copy of his book he wrote on the cover page “… Our separation was finally not so hard for me to live with because I am so happy that you finally achieved what you always desired and merited …”
Some years later, when Jean asked me to take over the editorship of the 4th edition of Diseases of the Nervous System, I was terrified but unable to say “No”. He helped me in selecting co-editors and authors (and this is an opportunity for me to thank them again). His wish was for the book to remain ‘resolutely clinical’.
Jean Aicardi: A Brief Curriculum Vitae
- Born November 8th 1926
- Medical degree, Paris Faculty of Medicine (1955)
- Research fellow, Harvard Medical School Boston, USA (1955–1956)
- Assistant Physician Hôpital des Enfants Malades, Paris, France (1957–1964)
- Assistant Physician Hôpital Saint-Vincent de Paul, Paris, France (1964–1979)
- Maître de Recherche, Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale- INSERM (1969–1986)
- Director of Research INSERM and Head Pediatric Neurology Unit, University Hospital Necker-Enfants Malades, Paris, France (1986–1991)
- Visiting Scientist Miami Children’s Hospital, USA, 1993
- Honorary Professor of Child Neurology, Institute of Child Health, London, UK (1992–1998)
Main Academic Honors and Distinctions
- Cornelia de Lange Medalion (Dutch Child Neurology Society)
- Fellow Royal College of Physicians (London)
- Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (London)
- Hower Award (US Child Neurology Society)
- Distinguished Investigator Award (Milken Award) (American Epilepsy Society)
- Honorary Member American Neurological Association
- Ambassador for Epilepsy (ILAE)
- Ramon y Cajal Award (Ibero-American Academy of Child Neurology)
- Peter Emil Becker Award (German Child Neurology society)
- Honoured Guest the XXth Cleveland Clinic Meeting Cleveland USA, 2002
- Honorary Member, European Paediatric Neurology Society, Göteborg, Sweden 2005
- President of the International Child Neurology Association (1990–1994)
- Légion d’Honneur (2009)
- Identified Aicardi’s syndrome in 1969
- Identified Aicardi-Goutières syndrome in 1984
- Diseases of the Nervous System in Childhood; Mac Keith Press, 1992, 1998, 2009.
- Epilepsy in Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 1993
- Aicardi’s Epilepsy in Children (with A Arzimanoglou, R Guerrini) Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2003
- Epilepsy. A Comprehensive Textbook, 2nd edn (with J Engel, TA Pedley, Dichter, S. Moshé) Lippincott, Williams and Wilkins, 2007.
- Movement Disorders in Children (with E. Fernandez Alvarez) Mac Keith Press, 2001.
- Epilepsy and Movement Disorders (with R Guerrini, F Andermann M. Hallett) Cambridge University Press, 2002.
- Founding Editor and Editor-in-Chief, Epileptic Disorders (1999–2004)
- 259 articles in international peer-reviewed journals
- 111 book chapters
* Excerpted from the book Aicardi’s Diseases of the Nervous System in Childhood, 4th Edition edited by Alexis Arzimanoglou, Anne O’Hare, Michael V Johnston and Robert Ouvrier.
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