As we continue our exploration during World Health Worker Week, we focus today on famous figures in medical research of specific diseases.
Alois Alzheimer, a German neuropathologist and psychiatrist, identified the first published case of “prehensile” dementia.
Early on in his career, Alois Alzheimer (14 June 1864 – 19 December 1915) took his studies and delved into the research of the cerebral cortex of the brain. He created a lab for brain research in Munich. It was in 1906 that he gave a lecture that launched his fame.
During this lecture he discussed an ‘unusual disease of the cerebral cortex’ found in a 51 year old woman. She presented with hallucinations, memory loss, disorientation and ending with death. In 1910, after further research and discovery of the abnormal brain pathology found in patients with this unusual disease, it was officially called Alzheimers.
Alzheimer researched and published along with his counterpart Franz Nissil the Histologic and Histopathologic Studies of the Cerebral Cortex in 1907.
Alice Augusta Ball was the first to discover an effective treatment for Leprosy.
In 1916, Alice Augusta Ball (24 July 1892-31 December, 1916) developed the first effective treatment for Leprosy (Hansen’s Disease). Most commonly called Leprosy, the disease has been known for thousands of years. Her amazing achievement remained unknown for years due to her death in December of 1916.
Leprosy was mentioned in many ancient documents. These included an Egyptian papyrus document from around 1500 B.C., descriptions in Indian writings around 600 B.C., and mentions during the time of Alexander the Great in 62 B.C. In the book Ancient Rome by Aulus Cornelius Celsus (25 BCE – 37 CE), there is also discussion of the disease. Both the Talmud and the Bible have early translations that indicate instances of leprosy, as well. It took nearly 3500 years, then, from the first known writing of leprosy, for someone to discover an effective treatment. It wasn’t until Alice Ball started looking into the disease that the most important discoveries were made.
In less than a year, after accepting a research position with Dr. Harry T. Hollman, Ball isolated the therapeutic compounds in Chaulmoogra oil. She managed to derive them in a water soluble form. This meant that they could be injected and easily absorbed into the bloodstream.
Dr. Henry J. Heimlich, known for the Heimlich Maneuver, was an American surgeon and researcher.
Dr. Heimlich (3 February 1920 – 17 December 2016) is best known as the inventor of the Heimlich Maneuver, an abdominal thrusting procedure to dislodge objects from a choking person. A thoracic surgeon, he also brought a lesser known procedure of using a section of a person’s stomach to repair the esophagus into popularity in 1955.
Dr. Heimlich’s other well known accomplishments include the Heimlich Chest Drain Valve. Field medics and hospitals used the valve during the Vietnam War. Later in his life, many of his theories and practices came under scrutiny. While he was a great self promoter, his celebrity waned as his later work was often considered unsafe or dangerous.
Edward Jenner first popularized vaccines and was a contributor to the creation of the vaccine for smallpox.
Dr. Jenner (17 May 1749 – 26 January 1823) was a physician in the later 18th and early 19th centuries in England. Dr. Jenner’s research came from his exploration of the idea that there was a protective effect of cowpox. Those who had been exposed to cowpox, a less virulent but similar disease, seemed to be immune to smallpox.
In 1979, Dr. Edward Jenner’s profound legacy was realized. World Health Organization declared smallpox officially eradicated after a global vaccination campaign.
Did you know? The term vaccine was coined during Dr. Jenner’s lifetime and came from the term Variolae vaccinae (smallpox of the cow).
Jonas Salk created the first successful vaccine for paralytic poliomyelitis, or polio
Dr. Jonas Salk (28 October 1914-23 June, 1995), a medical researcher and physician, began researching polio in 1947. Polio is a disease that attacks the nervous system. The National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis (NFIP) (now the March of Dimes) funded his research. Salk deactivated polio viruses by treating them with formaldehyde so that they could no longer replicate for his vaccine. At the time, most scientists thought that they needed to use weakened but still “live” viruses for a vaccine to work. Salk, however, proved deactivated viruses as effective and safer alternative. After rigorous testing to confirm both its effectiveness and safety, his vaccine was approved in 1955.
Salk never patented the vaccine that saved millions of Americans from a debilitating and sometimes fatal disease. He thought that the patent belonged to the people, because millions of donations had made his research possible.
Thanks to vaccinations, there were only 416 documented cases of polio in 2013–worldwide!
John Snow is considered the “father of epidemiology” for his work tracking down the source of cholera outbreak to a shared water pump.
Dr. John Snow (15 March 1813 – 16 June 1858) was an English physician. He disagreed with the common belief at the time that people caught cholera by breathing in bad air, called miasma. Snow believed, instead, that people caught cholera by drinking contaminated water. At the time, communities had at best crude sanitation. Most human waste was dumped into either rivers or pits called cesspools. People relied on community wells for water. Snow believed that sewage contamination of drinking water caused cholera, a potentially deadly diarrheal disease.
In August pf 1854, a cholera outbreak happened in Soho, a community that today is part of the West End of London. Snow suspected the public Broad Street well was to blame. He tracked cholera cases by marking them on a map with dots. Snow asked both cholera patients and people who hadn’t gotten cholera where they had gotten their water from. He also asked businesses, such as pubs and breweries, where they got their water from. With this information, he managed to convince city officials to remove the handle from the pump. The cholera outbreak almost immediately came to an end.
It took time, but eventually public officials listened to Snow. They began to make changes to protect water sources from contamination. His practice of documenting and mapping illnesses to find their source is still a fundamental practice in modern day epidemiology. Epidemiology is the branch of medicine that specializes in tracking the distribution of illnesses in order to prevent or limit disease outbreaks.
So, to celebrate World Health Worker Week, we exploring famous historical figures throughout history.
Here’s the list of our coming blogs for World Health Worker Week.
- Famous figures at the beginning of global healthcare.
- Important accomplishments by Healthcare Workers in Specific Diseases.
- Famous historical figures in medical research.
- Other famous and familiar names in the history of global healthcare.
- Famous Humanitarians and Philanthropists that have been part of Healthcare.
You can also check our our Definitions of Diseases series.
- Disease Definitions: AIDS, Cholera, Coronavirus, Diphtheria, Ebola, and Influenza
- Disease Definitions: Leprosy, Malaria, The Plague, Polio, and Smallpox
- Disease Definitions: Sweating Sickness, Syphilis, Typhus, and Yellow Fever