Library Treasures: A Visit to Almroth Wright’s Lab

Almroth Wright, ca. 1911, The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of PhiladelphiaEarly in our vaccine research at The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, we came across an interesting reprint from a 1911 medical journal. In honor of the anniversary of the birth of the article’s subject, we’ll share some of the images here.

Sir Almroth Edward Wright, born August 10, 1861, died 1947, was a British bacteriologist who co-developed an inactivated typhoid vaccine (1896) and pneumococcal vaccine (1911). He promoted the use of autogenous vaccines for bacterial infections—that is, removing bacteria from a patient’s own infection and inactivating it, and then treating the patient with the material. This type of therapy became largely obsolete with the development of antimicrobials.

As one book reviewer states, Wright had “a deep aversion to statistics,” and some of Wright’s own claims for efficacy of his vaccines were difficult or impossible to evaluate. (Wright was colorful in other ways: he opposed women’s suffrage to such a degree that he wrote a 1913 treatise titled The Unexpurgated Case Against Woman Suffrage, from which we will avoid quoting here–as this post is, remember, in honor of his birthday. You are, however, invited to read it at http://www.gutenberg.org/etext/5183.) Wright’s typhoid vaccine, however, was shown to be effective in a large trial by the British War Board, and it protected thousands of soldiers in the British Army during World War I.

The reprint in our library (see Sources) gives an account of a New Jersey physician’s visit to St. Mary’s Hospital in London, where Wright worked. The American left impressed with the facilities and advanced laboratory techniques of Wright’s team.

The Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of PhiladelphiaSources

Henderson J. The Plato of Praed Street: The life and times of Almroth Wright. J R Soc Med. 2001 July; 94(7): 364–365. (review) http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1281610/

Martin JS. The present status of inoculation therapy. The application of opsonins and vaccines in the treatment of bacterial infections, as taught by Wright, at St. Mary’s Hospital, London. Reprinted from The Medical Record, June 3, 1911. New York: William Wood and Co.

Plotkin SA, Orenstein WA, Offit PA, eds. Vaccines, 5th ed. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2008.