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A History of Discoveries

A selection of research accomplishments by scientists and clinicians in the Harvard Medical Unit of Boston City Hospital

Boston City Hospital, circa 1920<br>Photo: Library of Congress, E. Chickering & Co.


Pernicious anemia

Clinicians successfully treat pernicious anemia with dietary additions of liver and liver extract. (Paper by George Minot, Class of 1912, and William Murphy ’20 in 1926.) The 1934 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded to Minot, Murphy, and G. Whipple for this discovery.

The pathology of bone marrow in pernicious anemia is elucidated. (Paper by Francis Peabody, Class of 1907, in 1929.)

Over decades, the etiological relationship between achylia gastrica and pernicious anemia is characterized. (First paper by William Castle ’21 in 1929.)

Research describes the role of intrinsic factor in and the pathophysiology of pernicious anemia. (Paper by Castle, C. Heath, M. Strauss, and R. W. Heinle in 1937.)

Iron Deficiency Anemia

The role of iron as a promoter of hemoglobin formation in hypochromic anemia is elucidated. (Paper by Heath, Strauss, and Castle in 1932.)

Researchers identify iron deficiency as the cause of hypochromic anemia in pregnant women and of chlorosis, a type of anemia, in adolescent girls. (Paper by Strauss and Castle in 1932 and, on adolescents only, by A. J. Patek and Heath in 1936.)

The role of the protein transferrin in transporting and delivering iron to red blood cells is revealed. (Paper by J. Katz and James Jandl ’49 in 1964.)

Folate Deficiency Anemia

Researchers demonstrate the existence of a form of macrocytic anemia that manifests during pregnancy and is unresponsive to liver extract used as therapy for pernicious anemia. (Paper by J. Watson and Castle in 1946.)

“Wills factor,” a substance named by Watson to honor Lucy Wills, who first isolated the factor in yeast, was later identified as folic acid (vitamin B9). Victor Herbert conducted a self-experiment in which he denied himself folate in order to delineate the effects of being deficient in the vitamin. (Paper by Herbert in 1962.)

Researchers first propose the “folate trap hypothesis,” defining the metabolic relationship of vitamin B12 and folic acid. (Paper by Herbert and R. Zalusky in 1962.)

Infectious Disease and Epidemiology

Over decades, researchers conduct rigorous studies of the antibacterial activity, clinical pharmacology, efficacy, and side effects of almost all antibiotics developed from the late 1930s through the 1970s. (First papers by Maxwell Finland ’26 et al. in 1930.)

Finland issues repeated warnings in lectures and in the literature regarding the dangers of the overuse of antibiotics and the excessive use of broad-spectrum antibiotics.

Boston City researchers and clinicians publish a body of literature documenting the role of emerging antibiotic-resistant bacterial organisms, especially Gram-negative bacilli and Staphylococcus aureus, in causing serious infections in hospitalized patients. (First papers by Finland et al. in 1944.)

Harvard Medical Unit establishes one of the first hospital antibiotic and infection control programs in the U.S. at Boston City Hospital.

Research shows a reduction in mortality caused by bacteremic S. pneumoniae pneumonia using S. pneumoniae antiserum therapy. (Paper by Finland in 1930.)

The pathophysiology of urinary tract infections is described, including the usefulness of the urine colony count when urine is cultured for the presence of bacteria. (Paper by Kass in 1957.)

Researchers describe the role of the pulmonary alveolar macrophage as a major defense against pulmonary infection. (Paper by Gareth Green in 1968.)

Frank Speizer launches the Nurses’ Health Study in 1976. This decades-long study of the factors that influence women’s health has, among other things, contributed to our understanding of how postmenopausal estrogen use influences the risk for breast cancer, how use of folic acid and other vitamins affect the risk for colon cancer, and how different levels of physical activity influence the risk for cardiovascular disease, colon cancer, and breast cancer as well as the risk for cognitive impairment and hip fracture.

Team of researchers led by Edward Kass finds that the bacterial infection resulting in toxic shock syndrome is triggered by the overabsorption of magnesium by some tampons. (Paper by Kass in 1989.)

Endocrine Metabolism

Over nearly four decades, Sidney Ingbar investigates and establishes the physiology of the thyroid gland. (First paper by Ingbar in 1955.)

Research describes the effects of iodide depletion on thyroid function. (Paper by Ingbar in 1965.)

H. Franklin Bunn identifies and describes structure and function of hemoglobin A1c, now used to diagnose and monitor patients with diabetes. (Paper by Bunn in 1976.)


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