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Birth of the science of immunology Frank C Schmalstieg Jr and Armond S Goldman
Summary: The science of immunology emerged in the last of the 19th and the first of the 20th century. Substantial progress in physics, chemistry and microbiology was essential for its development. Indeed, microorganisms became one of the principal investigative tools of the major founders of that science – LouisPasteur, Robert Koch, Ilya Ilich Metchnikoff, Paul Ehrlich and Jules Bordet. It is pertinent that these pioneering scientists were born when questioning and exploration were encouraged because of the legacies of the previous century of enlightenment. Mentors greatly aided their development. Their discoveries were shaped by their individual personalities. In turn they developed other contributors to thenascent field. Their discoveries included the types of leukocytes, the roles of neutrophils in inflammation and defence, cellular lysis due to complement, the principles of humoral and cellular immunology, passive and active immunization, tissue antigens, anaphylaxis, anaphylactoid reactions and autoimmunity. Their work formed the basis of modern immunology that developed many decades later.Immunology has enormously impacted our understanding of the pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment of infections, immune-mediated disorders and inflammation. Burgeoning advances forecast further important clinical applications of immunology. Yet, their applications will be problematic because few physicians sufficiently understand the science. We propose that understanding modern immunology requires agrasp of how that science developed – who made the discoveries, how they were made, their successes and failures, their interactions and debates all reveal the foundation of modern immunology.
Journal of Medical Biography 2010; 18: 88–98. DOI: 10.1258/jmb.2010.010009Figure 1 Photograph of Louis Pasteur when he was Doyen de la Faculte ́ de la Science a` Lille in 1857 (age 35), reproduced courtesyof the History of Medicine of the National Library of Medicine
and left-handed populations. The re-solubilized crys- tals rotated polarized light to the right or left depending upon their orientation. This finding spurred investi- gations by others that provided insights into the chiral nature of many carbon compounds.
Few devoted themselves more to science and applied lessons learned from oneexperimental field to another. In that respect, despite little initial training in biology and medicine and a stroke at age 46 that left him par- tially paralysed in his left arm and leg, Pasteur made remarkable discoveries in bacteriology, fermentation, infectious disease and immunology.3 In that respect, Pasteur commented three years before his discovery of mirror-image populations of organiccrystals that ‘in the fields of observation, chance favours only the pre- pared mind’.8
Koch, the son of a mining official, was born in 1843 in Clausthal4,5 in the Hartz mountains, then in Prussia. His parents recognized he was precocious and encour- aged his education. His maternal grandfather Heinrich Bievend, a self-taught naturalist, introduced him to nature. Furthermore, Koch’s maternal uncleEduard Biewend, a naturalist and photographer, further fos- tered those interests. Koch wished to be a naturalist but
Figure 2 Painting of Pasteur when he was Directeur de l’Institute Pasteur in 1885 (age 63). The painting by Albert Gustave Aristides Edelfelt (1854– 1905) may not have been entirely accurate since Pasteur, who was partially paralysed in the right upper and lower extremities, isdepicted holding a flask in his right hand and supporting himself by leaning against a book with his left hand. Furthermore, there appears to be a silkworm in the flask, but Pasteur’s investigations of silkworm infections ceased decades before then. This reproduction was a rendition of the original by Thomas Hamilton Crawford (1860 – 1948). The reproduction is part of Pasteur’s Library housed in...
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