Jean Aicardi was a pioneering paediatric neurologist who described a rare genetic form of epilepsy now known as Aicardi syndrome. He was born in the commune of Rambouillet, France. His father, Joseph Aicardi, was an engineer; his mother was Laurence Aicardi née Dor. He had eight brothers and sisters – two died in infancy and another, Jacques, died in a German labour camp in 1945. Aicardi studied at the Lycée Hoche in Versailles and then went on to study medicine in Paris.
He gained his MD in 1955 with a thesis on convulsive disorders in the first year of life. He then went to the United States, where he was a research fellow at Harvard Medical School until 1956.
On his return to France, he became an assistant physician at Hôpital des Enfants Malades, Paris (from 1957 to 1964) and an assistant physician at Hôpital Saint-Vincent de Paul (from 1974 to 1979). Aicardi was maître de recherche from 1969 to 1986 and directeur de recherche from 1986 to 1991 at Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (INSERM).
After his formal retirement in 1991, he worked as an ambassador for the International Child Neurology Association, and was a visiting professor at Miami Children’s Hospital and at the Institute of Child Health in London.
He gave his name to two conditions – Aicardi syndrome, a rare genetic form of epilepsy which mainly affects young girls, and Aicardi-Goutières syndrome, a type of childhood encephalopathy, identified with his colleague Françoise Goutières.
Two of his books, Epilepsy in children (New York, Raven, 1986) and Diseases of the nervous system in childhood (Mac Keith Press, 1992), have become classic texts. He was editor-in-chief (from 1994 to 2004) and founding editor of the journal Epileptic Disorders, and a member of the editorial boards and a reviewer of other journals, including Neuropaediatrics, Brain and Development, Pediatric Neurology, Journal of Child Neurology, Epilepsia, The Lancet Neurology and Brain.
He received many awards, including the Légion d’honneur, the lifetime achievement award of the International League Against Epilepsy and the International Bureau for Epilepsy, the Cornelia de Lange medallion of the Dutch Child Neurology Society, the Hower award from the US Child Neurology Society, the distinguished investigator award of the American Epilepsy Society and Milken Family Foundation, and the Peter Emil Becker award of the German Child Neurology Society. He was an honorary member of the American Neurological Association and of the European Paediatric Association. He became a fellow of the Royal College of Physicians in 1993.
In 1958 he married Jeanne Couturier, an accomplished interior designer. They had no children and she predeceased him in 2011.
[The Times 15 September 2015; Aircardi Syndrome Foundation Dr Jean Aicardi, 1926-2015 https://aicardisyndromefoundation.org/dr-jean-aicardi-1926-2015/ – accessed 18 September 2017; Child Neurology Society Professor Jean Aicardi (1926-2015) www.childneurologysociety.org/about/in-memoriam/aicardi-jean – accessed 18 September 2017; Wikipedia – Jean Aicardi https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Aicardi – accessed 18 September 2017]