The Adventure Issue

BackStory

Explorer-scientists from HMS have traveled the world investigating infectious diseases

From the banks of the Charles River to the Amazon Basin, HMS explorers have long plumbed the depths of medical knowledge in service to global health.

S. Burt Wolbach, Class of 1903, left London for The Gambia and Senegal in 1911, embarking on an expedition to research diagnostic methods for human trypanosomiasis, or sleeping sickness, and to determine the incidence of the disease in the territory. This trip had its hardships. Wolbach wrote in a letter to H. C. Ernst, a professor of bacteriology at HMS, that the “dust … is very trying, and it rises and gets into everything. It is like setting up a laboratory in the middle of a dusty Boston street.”

An expedition in 1924 to the upper Amazon, led by Alexander Hamilton Rice, Class of 1904, to research tropical diseases counted among its party George Cheever Shattuck, Class of 1905 and an assistant professor of tropical medicine at HMS. They traveled by canoe and contended with malaria, infected insect bites, and machete wounds. Later, Shattuck was also a co-leader on one of the Harvard African Expeditions that conducted a biological and medical survey of Liberia and the Belgian Congo.

Viscerotome courtesy of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene at the Francis A. Countway Library of Medicine's Center for the History of Medicine.

Photo: John Soares