Business08 November 2017

Ioan Cantacuzino and the cholera vaccine

One of the most illustrious figures of Romanian academia and scientific research, Ioan Cantacuzino was the first to obtain long lasting results in the fight against cholera

Ioan Cantacuzino and the cholera vaccine

Ioan Cantacuzino and the cholera vaccine

Ioan Cantacuzino was an academic, physician, microbiologist, university professor and the founder of the Romanian school of immunology and experimental pathology. His most important achievement was the cholera vaccine. This drug swiftly put an end to the cholera epidemic among the Romanian soldiers stationed in Bulgaria during the Second Balkan War (1913).

Young Cantacuzino attended high school and university in Paris. He was a fervent admirer of art and his first choice of specialization was philosophy. But after receiving his degree in 1885, he made a career change in the direction of natural science. He applied to the Faculty of Science in Paris in 1886 and in 1887 to the Medical Faculty, attending the courses of the two in parallel.

After getting his degree in science, he learned about the work of Ilia Mecinikov on the comparative pathology of inflammation and became so excited about it that he decided to devote himself to scientific research. He was accepted at Mecinikov’s laboratory at the Pasteur Institute and took a course during the winter of 1892-1893. Next, he began a doctoral research on a subject suggested by Mecinikov himself. He became Doctor of Medicine in 1895 with the thesis entitled “Research on the method of destruction of the cholera vibrio in the body”.


He taught briefly at the university in Iasi and in 1901, he was appointed professor at the University of Bucharest. In 1908, he became general manager of the Health Service. In this capacity, he sent a team of doctors to Bulgaria during the First Balkan War to study the cholera epidemic. The microbiological and epidemiological data that was collected and the strains of Vibrio cholerae brought back were essential in the development of the vaccine the next year. During the Second Balkan War, the cholera epidemic was so virulent that measures had to be swift and extensive.

The first cholera vaccination on humans was done in 1884 by Spanish doctor Jaume Ferran i Clua. Other vaccinations were done in India, between 1893 and 1895, and Russia, between 1904 and 1909. But since they were not done consistently everywhere, the results were less than satisfactory.

Prof. Cantacuzino devised a new method of treatment which entailed administering the drug in three stages. The soldiers were inoculated for the first time on July 21st with a dose of 1cm3. Another dose of 2cm3 was administered on July 27th and a third dose of 3cm3, on August 2nd. After the first and second inoculations there were still a few hundred cases of cholera reported, but the epidemic disappeared abruptly after the final administration of the drug. This is the single most significant moment in the fight against cholera and its outstanding results earned it the name of The Great Romanian Experiment. It went straight into the annals of epidemiology as the first laboratory experiment being done on a large number of individuals amidst of a full epidemic.


“Prof. Dr. Ioan Cantacuzino, descoperitorul vaccinului antiholeric si fondatorul şcolii române de microbiologie”, Bună Ziua Iaşi, March 4th 2014, Available at:, Accessed: 08.08.2015.

“Viaţa şi Opera Profesorului Ion Cantacuzino”, Institutul Cantacuzino, Available at:, Accessed: 08.08.2015.

Leasu, Florin, Nemet, Codruţa, Borzan, Cristina and Rogozea, Liliana, (2015) “A novel method to combat the cholera epidemic among the Romanian army during The Balkan War - 1913”, Acta med-hist Adriat, 13(1), 159-170.    

Andra Mihaela Cimpean




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