Life story of Lucien Brull


Written by:  E. B. Verney

contributed by: Peter Vanbrabant

(1898 – 1959)

(Extracts from this appreciation appeared in The Times, Nov 2nd, 1959; The Lancet, Nov 7th, 1959 and the British Medical journal, Dec 12th, 1959.

By the sudden death of Dr. Lucien Brüll, Professor of Clinical Medicine in the University or Liège, Belgian medical and scientific circles have lost a much beloved physician, an enthusiastic research worker and a wise counselor. And his many friends in this country, to which he was deeply attached, as well as in other European countries and in the United States, will sadly miss that kindness or heart, abounding generosity, sparkling wit (often satirical but never malicious) and that fondness for good living which, together, made him so lovable.
Born in 1898 Lucien Brull spent his boyhood in Tongres and acquired a lasting affection for the Campine countryside where, some fifty miles to the north of Liège, his father owned a large estate of forest and agricultural land which Lucien Brüll later inherited. He completed his medical training at the University of Liège; obtaining its Doctorate of Medicine in 1924 with the highest distinction.
It was then that Queen Elizabeth of the Belgians, whose constant interest and help in promoting research in the medical sciences will always be remembered with gratitude, was visiting Professor Starling's laboratory at University College, London, where under his inspiration and guidance, an enthusiastic group of young scientists were learning the disciplines of physiological research. When the Queen commented on the absence of any Belgian workers it was suggested that her influence be used, and it was not long afterwards that Lucien Brüll came to University College as Lauréat du Concours des Bourses de Voyages. He thus in his youth gained an international outlook for his career and quickly made life-long friendships. This power to give and take friendship had the most fruitful results not only for his personal work but also for British and European physiology and medicine. Throughout his research life he frequently referred to the debt he owed Starling in shaping his outlook and future career. Indeed, it was this experience in England and that of the following year in Strasbourg where, under Professors Nicloux and Terroine, he studied the techniques of physiological chemistry, which convinced Lucien Brüll that advances in medicine depend upon the application of physiological methods to its problems, and that the university role of the clinician is one which cannot but absorb his whole time and energy. Thus he became the first full-time University clinician in Belgium; and in 1937 the University of Liège built, to his design and in structural connection with his wards, the Research Institute which will remain as the tangible expression of his outlook and aims. The organization and financing of this Institute were unique and original in that Lucien Brüll made its staffing, equipment and maintenance self-supporting through a fund dispensed by the University and secured by fees from private patients and contributions from social insurance agencies. Here were accommodated not only his staff of fulltime physicians and medical scientists but many visitors from abroad who were eager, under Lucien Brülls guidance, to unravel the biological processes underlying physiological and pathological phenomena in man and the lower animals. In addition some thirty technicians were employed in the multifarious and routine analyses associated with modern clinical investigation.
And in spite of the exacting teaching and administrative duties of his office - he was fearless, eloquent and effective on committee and in debate - Lucien Brüll continued throughout his career to work in an individual capacity on problems in the field of his special interests, a fact that contributed so much to the vitality and enthusiasm with which his younger associates were infected. Although his research institute was divided into departments each specializing in the disciplines needed for advancement in a particular field of medical knowledge, and each under the direction of a senior member of his staff, the institute, his wards and his clinics formed an autonomous whole. Every morning at eight o'clock he presided at a brief conference with his staff. He realized the dangers of specialized research divorced from the tempering and nourishing experience of general medicine; and he insisted that all his medical staff, senior and junior alike, should take their full share of responsibility in the wards and outpatient clinics. He was thus, too, paying a silent tribute to the essential nature of the work of the general practitioner.
The modesty and self-effacement inherent in Licien Brüll’s character – honors, offices and responsibilities in national and academic circles were willy-nilly thrust upon him - have largely obscured the real and important part he has played in the advancement of medical science. It is fitting, therefore, briefly to mention a few of his achievements. He was the first to demonstrate experimentally the temporary cure of uraemia by kidney grafts, and to elaborate a "mechanical heart" whereby organs could be perfused, and their function maintained, with oxygenated blood free from anticoagulants. Many of the difficulties encountered in the advancing front of human cardiovascular surgery derive from the inescapable contact of blood with foreign surfaces, and it may well be that the principle of Lucien Brüll's fundamental work in the field of viviperfusion will later find fruitful application to human needs. Further, he was one of the first to utilize radioactive isotopes in biological research and therapeutics, and the first on the continent to introduce radioactive iodine in the treatment of thyrotoxicosis. His goitre clinic quickly became one of the world's most active centers for the assessment and treatment of thyroid disease. It is, too, of interest to recall that he established the first "blood-bank" in Belgium with the collaboration of Professor Moureau who, through this transfusion service, discovered the Rh factor at the same time as his American colleagues. His organizing ability is further shown in his outstanding contribution that he, in his later years, made to the development of Gerontology, work that culminated in his founding the International Association and presiding in Liège at its first congress.
Nor was this all. Lucien loved the countryside and, whenever his academic responsibilities allowed, he and his wife, often accompanied at weekends by relations and close friends, would seek the retreat of their estate in Campine, part of which they had recently enclosed as a bird sanctuary.
During the last world war, and after their temporary separation at the time of the German invasion, they frequently cycled to and from their estate, bringing back farm produce to the sick and needy families in the hospital. The responsibility for this estate had given Lucien Brüll such intimate knowledge of forestry and agriculture that at the behest of the Belgian Government and as Director of the Mission Interdisciplinaire de l'Université de Liége au Katanga, he has made, since the war, many trips to the Congo not only to plan clinics, schools and craft centers, but also to advise the local administration on the pressing problems of land clearance and crop cultivation by the native population. He envisaged the creation of experimental native villages and had the satisfaction on his last visit of seeing the first of these in full and happy operation in Haut Katanga: it is to be named after him. Thus as an agronomist no less than as a physician he has played an outstanding role in colonial development in Africa. It was his firm conviction that in patient education and the supply of technicians with a vocation to serve lay the road to civilizing primitive peoples. He had a horror of dangers and crudities which over-rapid commercial exploitation so often exhibits, and vigorously opposed land ownership by the governing nation.
Some, his students among them, will remember Lucien Brüll for the clarity and simplicity of his expositions, others for his vivacity and power of quick decision, others for his understanding of and sympathy with nature in all her aspects and problems, yet others for his wit and bonhomie: all will remember him for his integrity, disinterestedness, high social purpose and his immense qualities of heart and spirit. He died on the ninth of September in the calm retreat of his charming home at Houlpays overlooking the Meuse valley and where he and his wife had adored to be surrounded by those whom they loved; and he is buried, as was his wish, in the little cemetery nearby, without the least mark to distinguish him from the country folk of the neighboring villages. His memorial is secure in the hearts and minds of the many that knew and loved him.