Image of the Week: An Unconscious Naked Man

I like this strange painting depicting the effects of chloroform

Wellcome Trust Blog

V0017053 An unconscious naked man An unconscious naked man, symbolising the effects of chloroform on the human body, R. Cooper.

A new exhibition opened at Wellcome Collection this week. ‘States of Mind: Tracing the Edges of Consciousness’ explores our understanding of the conscious experience from different perspectives. Calum Wiggins, a graduate trainee at the Wellcome Trust, has picked out a painting from the exhibition as our Image of the Week.

Henry Wellcome was an avid collector. Not content with gathering objects already in existence, he would also commission artworks to fill gaps in his collection. Wellcome wanted to have a representation of each of the important moments in this history of medicine and this watercolour was one of many painted by Richard Tennant Cooper at his request.

The disconcerting scene is the artist’s interpretation of the effects of chloroform on the human body. Demons armed with both surgical and musical instruments surround the man…

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The Earliest Herbals

We have a copy of ‘Culpeper’s English physician; and complete herbal’ written in the 17th century in the Special Collections Centre

Circulating Now from NLM

By Michael North

This post is the first in a series exploring the National Library of Medicine’s rich and varied collection of “herbals,” which are books devoted to the description of medicinal plants (and sometimes other natural substances) with instructions on how to use them to treat illness. The Library’s herbals are some of the most beautifully illustrated books in the collection, and many contain information that has not yet been investigated using modern scientific methods.

A simple botanical illustration of gladiolus bulbs with leaves and flowers. “Gladiolus,” Theophrastus, De Historia Plantarum (Amsterdam: Hendrick Laurensz, 1644).

Many of the earliest medical writings were herbals, which described plants and how they could be used to heal illnesses. Most of these written treatises likely began as traditional oral information, passed down from generation to generation, sometimes as wider cultural information and sometimes as secrets kept within families or small social groups. Often these collections of knowledge included other natural materials in the environment…

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World TB Day 2015: what next for prevention and treatment?

Wellcome Trust Blog


TB remains a global problem with 1.5 million deaths and 9 million cases per year. On World TB Day, Wellcome Trust Senior Science Portfolio Developer Marta Tufet looks back at the history of TB prevention and treatment, explains what the Wellcome Trust is doing to support research in this area, and asks what more needs to be done to make an impact on this stubborn disease…

At 13 I moved to France mid-school term and mid-TB vaccination campaign. All the kids were lined up at the school’s gym and one by one a nurse inserted a needle into our forearms – the Tuberculin skin test to see whether we would mount a localised immune response, an indication that there had been exposure to the bacteria. To this day the memory remains vivid – not speaking a word of French at the time, it presented an excellent communication opportunity. I eagerly…

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What was sweating sickness – the mysterious Tudor plague of Wolf Hall?

By Derek Gatherer, Lancaster University

Thomas Cromwell, Earl of Essex by Hans Holbein

In the first episode of BBC historical drama Wolf Hall, based on Hilary Mantel’s novel of the same name, Thomas Cromwell returns home to find his wife and two daughters have all died during the night, victims of a pestilence – the “sweating sickness” – that is scything through the Tudor world.

The speed of onset of this disease, which saw victims literally being well today and dead tomorrow, and its relentlessly high mortality rate gave the sweating sickness the same aura of terror that we attach to Ebola today.

Sudor Anglicus

Contemporary accounts describe an illness that began with a general feeling that something was not right, a strange premonition of oncoming horror, followed by the onset of violent headache, flu-like shivers and aching limbs.

This was succeeded by a raging fever complicated by pulse irregularities and cardiac palpitations. Death often simply seemed to occur due to dehydration and exhaustion. As one commentator said:

A newe Kynde of sickness came through the whole region, which was so sore, so peynfull, and sharp, that the lyke was never harde of to any mannes rememberance before that tyme.

The sweating sickness first appeared around the time Thomas Cromwell, later chief minister to Henry VIII, was born, at the end of the dynastic Wars of the Roses, and there has been some debate concerning the possibility that it arrived with the invading army of the first Tudor king, Henry VII, in 1485.

By the time it disappeared in 1551 it had caused five devastating outbreaks. To observers on the other side of the Channel, whose countries had apparently remained miraculously untouched (though a later outbreak did spread to Calais), this disease was Sudor Anglicus, or the “English Sweat”.

Doctor without borders

During the Tudor and early Elizabethan eras, the merest rumour of sweating sickness in a certain locality was enough to cause an exodus of those who could afford to leave.

Thomas Le Forestier, a French doctor originally based in England, wrote about the 1485 sickness after his return to France, providing information about its appearance and impact during this first outbreak.

But one man’s name became synonymous with the sickness. Norwich-born and Cambridge-educated John Kays had spent his early medical career travelling extensively on the continent, returning around the end of the reign of Henry VIII with a fashionably Latinised moniker, Dr Johannus Caius. The sweating sickness panic during the outbreak of 1551 gave him the ideal opportunity to make this new name known to everybody.

The fact that the wealthy seemed to be more frequently affected also gave him the opportunity to make money. Despite most of Caius’s patients still ending up dead, he was eventually rich enough to make a splendid endowment to his old Cambridge college, which changed its name to Caius College in his honour. To the rest of us, Caius left his classic description of the disease: Account of the Sweating Sickness in England, first published in 1556.

Medical speculation

A minor academic industry has developed speculating on what sweating sickness could have been.

Given that it had few symptoms other than a violent fatal fever, medical historians have had little to go on. But suggestions that have been made over the years include influenza, scarlet fever, anthrax, typhus or some SARS-like pulmonary enterovirus. All, however, have had some clinical or epidemiological aspect that meant they didn’t quite fit the description on the “most wanted” poster for sweating sickness.

Then in 1993, an outbreak of a remarkably similar syndrome occurred among the Navajo people in the region of Gallup, New Mexico. This episode, known as the Four Corners outbreak after the region of south-western USA in which it was located, turned the attention of sweating sickness investigators towards its causative agent: Sin Nombre virus. Sin Nombre is a hantavirus, a member of a group of viruses that were mostly previously known in Europe for causing a kidney failure syndrome, and a cousin of several tropical fever viruses transmitted by biting insects. The new disease was given the name hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS).

Made in Chelsea

Aside from the similar clinical descriptions of sweating sickness and HPS, one other factor stands out in favour of their equivalence: rich people in Tudor times were more likely to be victims.

The end of the Wars of the Roses meant that people at last felt safe to invest in property without the risk of it being immediately ransacked, and the dissolution of the monasteries created a new upwardly mobile class that suddenly had the means to build. And build they did – Tudor London and the regional cities of England experienced a massive housing boom. Large households needed large staff, and large numbers of people need large kitchens full of large deposits of grain and other foodstuffs. Shortly after the people moved in, the rats and mice followed.

The Four Corners outbreak was due to the presence of Sin Nombre virus within the droppings of deer mice living in the vicinity of the Navajo dwellings. Aerosolisation of the virus when the droppings were disturbed, for instance when a broom passed over them to sweep them away, created an environmental airborne infection.

Whereas nowadays rodents plague the poor, in post-medieval London they were a feature of all levels of society. Rather than try to remove the rats, an almost impossible task, Tudor housekeepers, fastidiously brushing their droppings away, may have released a cloud of hantavirus-loaded dust, triggering the sweating sickness across England. All this assumes, of course, that the sweating sickness was an early variant of HPS. Other candidate pathogens have generated other explanations and scenarios.

So where did it go?

Sweating sickness had disappeared by late Elizabethan times. Its reign of terror barely lasted a century. If indeed it was an ancient variant of HPS, we can perhaps speculate about what led to its demise. The virus may have mutated to a less virulent form, perhaps in the process acquiring the capacity to be passed between humans as a more benign feverish illness, rather than being just a sporadic environmental hazard. Or perhaps its evolutionary trajectory took it in the other direction, becoming more fatal to its rodent hosts, thereby reducing the quantity of infected droppings around human habitations.

There is a third possibility – we know that the climate of Europe was becoming progressively colder from the late middle ages onwards. Perhaps some subtle change in rodent ecology made life harder for the virus. For instance the Four Corners HPS outbreak was linked to the El Niño climatic oscillation. We’ll never know for sure. Much of the mystery of sweating sickness remains. However, we do know that hantaviruses are still with us, and their day could come again.

This article was originally published on The Conversation.
Read the original article.

Diagnosing Ebola in Sierra Leone

Wellcome Trust Blog

sierra leone

Wellcome-funded virologist Professor Ian Goodfellow is usually based in the Division of Virology at the University of Cambridge, but he recently took a break from his usual research to travel to Sierra Leone and help out at an Ebola diagnostic facility. In the first of a two-part series, he tells us about his experiences in an Ebola diagnostics facility in Sierra Leone and what more needs to be done to get the current epidemic under control…

What is your day job? Tell us a bit about your research…

Ian gfMy main research focus is virus-host interactions, focusing primarily on noroviruses, the major cause of gastroenteritis in the developed world. We’ve used a variety of approaches to try to understand the viral life cycle and more recently have taken the first steps towards the identification of therapeutic approaches for the control of norovirus infection in patients. My interests have recently spread into…

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“I just can’t get you out of my head” – musical hallucinations and Phantom Voices

Wellcome Trust Blog


Most of us can recall familiar music in our heads; some of us can imagine original music. But when that musical imagination spills over into musical intrusions, earworms or hallucinations, the experience can be disorientating at best, and at worst frightening. Recipients of a Wellcome Trust Arts Award, vocal ensemble The Clerks, present a new performance piece entitled ‘Phantom Voices’, a provocative take on the phenomenon of musical hallucinations. Edward Wickham, who devised the project, explains more…

Many of us experience what might be called ‘musical imaginings’ in the form of the everyday phenomenon of the ‘earworm’ which has led to surveys concluding, unsurprisingly, that Kylie Minogue’s “I just can’t get you out of my head” is a leading contender. But there is much greater range: from the musician or composer who is capable of controlling and manipulating her musical imaginings, through to the person who hears music as if…

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Image of the Week: Lung Cancer Cells

Wellcome Trust Blog

B0006883 Lung cancer cells

This Image of the Week was written by Alice Sheehan.

This month is lung cancer awareness month, which aims to raise the profile of one of the world’s biggest cancer killers.

Cancer is a condition where cells in a part of the body grow and reproduce uncontrollably. Cancer cells invade healthy tissue disrupting their functions or killing them and can for example limit an organs blood supply. Cancer can occur due to a combination of different factors; however some types which have been linked to lifestyle, such as kidney and liver cancers, are becoming more common in some populations.

Our image of the week is of a lung cancer cell in the latter stages of cell division. During cell division a single cell duplicates its genetic information and then splits to form two separate cells. In the image, the two ‘daughter cells’ have nearly separated completely from each other, with only…

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