Pioneers in Medicine and Their Impact on Tuberculosis

Thomas M. Daniel

Rochester University Press 2000
A book review by Danny Yee © 2010
Thomas Daniel begins with three chapters on tuberculosis. The first looks at medical history, at the role tuberculosis played in the development of infectious disease theory, bacteriology, epidemiology and public health, and molecular biology. The second covers the pathogenesis of Mycobacterium tuberculosis, its course of disease, and its natural history. And the third is a very brief history of the origins, spread, containment and now revival of tuberculosis.

There follow six short biographies of key figures in the history of tuberculosis, ordered chronologically.

René Théophile Hyacinthe Laennec was one of the founding fathers of pathology, known for his development of the stethoscope and other diagnostic tools. Extensive studies based on autopsies and inspection of organs led him to recognition of tuberculosis as a single entity, and he described the stages which had previously been attributed to different diseases.

Heinrich Hermann Robert Koch was the father of bacteriology and infectious disease theory, developing culture and staining techniques and carrying out careful framing of hypotheses and testing. He worked on anthrax and cholera as well as tuberculosis.

As New York health commissioner, Hermann Michael Biggs pushed through both medical and political innovations which made him "the father of modern public health in North America". His contributions to the fight against tuberculosis included the provision of universal diagnostic services and treatment and the introduction of systematic case reporting.

Clemens von Pirquet was an Austrian paediatrician who did important work on allergies and the immune system. As part of his work on tuberculosis he developed the tuberculin skin test still used for its diagnosis.

Wade Hampton Frost was an American epidemiologist who worked on acute infectious diseases such as typhoid, poliomyelitis and influenza before moving on to tuberculosis. He was a pioneer of quantitative methods, with innovations in the use of household surveys, cohort studies, and index cases.

Selman Abraham Waksman was a Jewish Ukrainian migrant to the United States who became one of the founders of soil microbiology. Work on actinomycetes lead to the discovery of streptomycin, which was "in the van of the armamentarium of effective agents" against tuberculosis.

Daniel is a medical researcher, and acknowledges in his introduction that he is "not a historian" but "an interpreter of medical history". While he is dependent on secondary sources for much of the biographical and historical material, however, he makes good use of excerpts from contemporary publications, letters, et cetera. And he is clearly familiar with the medical science. (In places his account is moderately technical, and I found the twelve page glossary useful a few times.)

Pioneers in Medicine and Their Impact on Tuberculosis offers full, if short, biographies which don't focus narrowly on their subjects' work on tuberculosis. It is not a replacement for a general history of the disease, but works well to set it in the context of broader medical and social history.

September 2010

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%T Pioneers in Medicine and Their Impact on Tuberculosis
%A Daniel, Thomas M.
%I Rochester University Press
%D 2000
%O hardcover, notes, glossary, index
%G ISBN 1580460674
%P 255pp