Delay, Jean-Louis-Paul

Delay, Jean-Louis-Paul
   (1907–1987)
   A pioneer of psychopharmacology in France, Delay was born into a surgeon’s family in Bayonne in southwest France, and his career was marked with brilliance at practically every step. At 22, he was an intern of the Paris hospitals, by 1937 rising to ward chief (médecin des hôpitaux); in 1939, he passed the Agrégation exam, and in 1942 earned a Ph.D. in arts and science; in 1946, he was appointed to the chair of mental diseases (maladies mentales) at the Ste.-Anne mental hospital. On the basis of a two-volume biography of French novelist André Gide, Delay was appointed in 1959 to the Académie française. In psychiatry, he had a profoundly biological orientation—indeed so biological that it irritated him to see patients, which he almost never did except in his private practice.
   Beginning in 1939, he helped to introduce electroencephalography in France. Yet aside from his 1942 Ph.D. thesis on memory (considerably influenced by Pierre Janet, whose pupil Delay was), Delay is mainly known for advances in psychopharmacology, or for encouraging his students such as Pierre Deniker (1917–1998) and Pierre Pichot (1918–) to make them. (Whether Delay contributed or not, his name went onto every paper.) In 1949, in research published in the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine, Delay introduced narcoanalysis with Sodium Amytal in France (see BARBITURATES: narcotherapy), contrasting the therapeutic effects of barbiturates in manic-depressive illness, acute neuroses, and schizophrenia, compared to those of methamphetamine. (Delay called it "chemical psychoanalysis.") Although credit for discovering the psychiatric efficacy of reserpine is usually accorded to Nathan Kline, Delay and Deniker were in print on the subject only months after him (in the Congress of French Psychiatry [Congrès des aliénistes et neurologistes de langue Française], 1954, pp. 836–841).
   Delay is associated above all with the discovery of the therapeutic efficacy of the antipsychotic drug chlorpromazine (CPZ). Although it was not Delay’s team that discovered initially the drug’s value, they did in fact conduct the first systematic clinical trial and reported in the summer of 1952 that they had made a find of capital importance. When in the upheavals of 1968 a group of students messed up his office, Delay was so shocked that he never again returned to it. In 1952, at a French-language psychiatry conference in Paris, Delay and Deniker coined the term "neuroleptic" (known in North America as "antipsychotic," a term Heinz Lehmann proposed in the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 1961).

Edward Shorter. 2014.

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