About a hundred years ago, two young Frenchmen were training to become neurologists (doctors who specialise in the nervous system) at the famous Saltpêtrière hospital in Paris. The young men were Georges Charles Guillain (1876-1961) and Jean-Alexandre Barré (1880-1967) and one of their tutors was Professor Pierre Marie (1853-1940). Professor Marie is remembered today because he helped to describe an illness very similar to CIDP called Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease.
During the First World War (1914-1918), Guillain and Barré were serving in the Neurological Unit of the Sixth French Army. The year was 1916 and there had just been a very bloody battle. The doctors observed two paralysed soldiers and made some tests on the fluid that surrounded their brains and spinal cords. The test results were unexpected and differed from other patients the doctors had tested before. Thankfully, the two soldiers recovered. Guillain, Barré and another doctor called André Strohl (1887-1977) who made many electrical tests reported their findings in the medical literature of the time (1916).
In 1923, Guillain succeeded Professor Marie in Paris, and Barré also became a Professor of Neurology at Strasbourg in 1919. Strohl also became a Professor, not of neurology but of physiological medicine. Perhaps that is why his name is no longer used today.
But Guillain, Barré and Strohl were not the first to describe the illness we now call GBS. It was in 1859 when another French doctor called Jean Landry de Thézillat (1826-1865) described an illness which became known as Landry's ascending paralysis. The test on cerebrospinal fluid that Guillain, Barré and Strohl later used had not been discovered.
Landry's decription of the illness and the later description of Guillain, Barré and Strohl were not quite the same. Landry noted that two out of ten patients had died while Guillain, Barré and Strohl stated that the condition was not grave. It was not until 1949 that Landry's ascending paralysis and the illness Guillain, Barré and Strohl described were regarded by most neurologists as being the same (but not by Guillain!).
It could just be that Guillain was right to be stubbon for in recent years, scientists have discovered that the illness called GBS is not actually one illness at all and some variants have potentially a much worse outcome than others.