Bacillus Calmette-Guérin

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Bacillus Calmette-Guérin (or Bacille Calmette-Guérin, BCG) is a vaccine against tuberculosis that is prepared from a strain of the attenuated (weakened) live bovine tuberculosis bacillus, Mycobacterium bovis, that has lost its virulence in humans by being specially cultured in an artificial medium for years. The bacilli have retained enough strong antigenicity to become a somewhat effective vaccine for the prevention of human tuberculosis. At best, the BCG vaccine is 80% effective in preventing tuberculosis for a duration of 15 years; however, its protective effect appears to vary according to geography[citation needed].

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History

The history of BCG is tied to that of smallpox. Jean Antoine Villemin first recognized bovine tuberculosis in 1854 and transmitted it, and Robert Koch first distinguished Mycobacterium bovis from Mycobacterium tuberculosis. After the success of vaccination in preventing smallpox, scientists thought to find a corollary in tuberculosis by drawing a parallel between bovine tuberculosis and cowpox: It was hypothesized that infection with bovine tuberculosis might protect against infection with human tuberculosis. In the late 19th century, clinical trials using M. bovis were conducted in Italy with disastrous results, because M. bovis was found to be just as virulent as M. tuberculosis.

Albert Calmette, a French bacteriologist, and his assistant and later colleague, Camille Guérin, a veterinarian, were working at the Institut Pasteur de Lille (Lille, France) in 1908. Their work included subculturing virulent strains of the tubercle bacillus and testing different culture media. They noted that a glycerin-bile-potato mixture grew bacilli that seemed less virulent, and changed the course of their research to see if repeated subculturing would produce a strain that was attenuated enough to be considered for use as a vaccine. Throughout World War I, the research continued until 1919, when the now non-virulent bacilli were unable to cause tuberculosis disease in research animals. They transferred to the Paris Pasteur Institute in 1919. The BCG vaccine was first used in humans in 1921.[1]

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