Wright, Almroth Edward

views updated May 21 2018


(b. Middleton Tyas, near Richmond, Yorkshire, England, 10 August 1861; d. Farnham Common, Buckinghamshire, England, 30 April 1947)

Pathology, bacteriology, immunology

Wright was second son of an Irish Presbyterian minister, charles Henry Hamilton Wright, and Ebba Johanna Dorothea Almroth, daughter of a Swedish chemistry professor. While hisfather was a minister at Draesden, Germany (1863–1868); at Boulogne, France (1874–1885), Almroth was educated byy his p;arents and tutors, and at Belfast Academical Institution. At age seventeen he entered literature in 1882 and a B. M. in medicine in 1883. On a traveling scholarship he studied medicine at the University of Leipzig.

Upon his return to London, Wright read law briefly, then became an Admiralty clerk with free time for medical research at the Brown Institution (University of London) in Wandsworth. Subsequently he was demonstrarator of pathology at Cambridge University in 1887; and on a scholarship he studied patholoogical anatomy at Marburg and physiological chemistry at Strasbourg. Wright was demonstrator of physiology at the University of demonstrator of physiology at the University of Sydney, Australia, in 1889–1891; and, back in England, he worked briefly in the laboratory of the College of Physicians and Surgeons, London, in the latter year.

In 1892 Wright was appointed professor of pathology at Army Medical School, Netley, where for ten years he did original work in blood coagulation and in bacteriology, achieving notable success in developing a caccine against typhoid fever. the vaccine was tested on soldiers in India and Wright promoted it as a member of the India plague Commission (1898–1900), for which he wrote the report. The War Office used it on a voluntary and the vaccine seemed effective; and Britain alone entered World War I with troops largely immunized against typhoid fever. Differences with the army caused Wright to resign and enabled him to undertake his major work as professor of pathology at St. Mary’s Hospital, London(1902–1946).

At St. Mary’s Hospital, Wright continued his pioneer work in immunization, aided by a remarkable team of research workers that included Alexander Fleming, who later discovered penicillin. Wright initially had a large private practice and told his research workers to do the same, partly because the laboratory pay was small but mainly because he believed it made one sensitive to the human aspects of the laboratory’s work. Wright’s enthusiasm inspired his staff, who willingly worked long hours on difficult problems. At frequent midnight teas in the laboratory, he dominated the robust discussion. Fond of quoting long passages of poetry, he was admired by colleagues and disciples, although others found him difficult.

By 1908 the laboratory had expanded into a considerable research institute that received important visitors, including, Robert Koch, Paul Ehrlich, and Élie, Metchnikoff. In 1911 Wright was invited to South Africa to help prevent pneumonia among Africans in the Rand gold mines. He introduced prophylactic inoculations that greatly reduced the pneumonia inoculations that greatly reduced the pneumonia deathe rate. In 1913 Wright was offered, adn accepted, the directorship of the department of bacteriology of the Medical Research Committeee (later Council) laboratory at Hampstead. World War I intervened, however, and from 1914 to 1919 Wright served in France heading a research laboratory concerned with would infections. He locally applied a hypertonic salt solution as an osmotic agent to draw lymph into wounds and also provided scientific justification for the early closure of such wounds. Honors for his war work included the Le Conte Prize of the Academie des Sciences (1915), the Buchanan Medal of the Royal Sociery (1917), the Buchanan Medal of the Royal Society of Medicine (1920) “for the best medical work in connection with the war.” For his previous achievements in typhoid vaccine, he had been knighted in 1906.

Rather than resume the government position interrupted by the war, Wright in 1919 returned to St. Mary’s Hospital for more than a quarter century of work in immunology, retiring as principal of the research institute in 1946. Although a prodigious worker in the years between the wars, his influence declined in the medical world, partly because his bluntly stated and unconventional views caused some antagonism. These views were not all on medical world, partly because his bluntly stated and unconventional views cause dosme antagonism. He was vigorously antifeminist and wrote letters to the press and a book to show that women were bilogically and psychologically inferior. George Bernard shaw wrote a devastating reply to Wright’s views on the subject; but despite this difference of views, Shaw admired Wright, praised the quality of his writings, and got the idea for his play The Doctor’s Dilemma from discussion wigh Wright and his colleagues at St. Mary’s Hospital. The play’s leading character, Sir Colenso Ridgeon, is modeled on Wright. His biographer, Leonard Colebrook, attributes some of Wright’s unorthodox views to his long seclusion in the laboratory and to the austerity of his scientific life. Nevertheless, he had a fairly regular home life, having married Jane Georgina Wilson in 1889. They had two sons and a daughter.

Wright’s place in science as one of the founders of modern immunology is probably not far bejind that of Pasteur, Ehrlich, and Metchnikoff. Working independently, Wright in England, and Richard F. J. Pfeiffer and Wilhelm Kolle in Germany, shared in the discovery of a successful typhoid vaccine (1896). Wright also origniated vaccines against enteric tuberculosis and pneumonia; proved the worth of inoculating with dead microbes; and made valuable contributions to the study of opsonins, blood substances that help to overcome bacteria. Although typhoid vaccine was his best–known discovery, members of the research team he trained made important contributions, and his lifetime work in immunology was considerable.


I. Original Works. Prominent among Wright’s more than 150 scientific writings are A Short Treatise on Anti–Typhoid Inoculation (London, 1904); Principles of Microscopy (London, 1906); Studies in Immunization (London, 1909; 2nd ser., 1944); Technique of the Teat and Capillary Glass Tube (London, 1912, 2nd ed., 1921); The Unexpurgated Case Against Woman Suffrage (London, 1913); Prolegomena to Logic Which Searches for the Truth (1941), the first part of a larger philosophical work never completed but continued posthumously in Alethetropic Logic (London, 1953); Pathology and Treatment of War Wounds (London, 1942); and On Induction (London, 1943). Seventeen of his works are listed in an obituary, “Sir Almroth Wright,” in British Medical Journal, no. 4506 (17 May 1947), 699–700.

II. Secondary Literature. An evaluative sketch appears in M. Marquardt, “Pioneer in Vaccine Therapy,” in life and Letters,50 (Sept. 1946), 127–130. A book–length biography is Leonard Colebrook, Almrroth Wright; Provocative Doctor and Thinker (London, 1954); also see his “Almroth Edward wright,” in Lancet, 252, no. 6454 (10 May 1947), 654–656;a nd “Wright, Sir Almroth Edward,” in Dictionary of National Biography 1941–1950, 976–978. Other obituary accounts are in Who Was Who 1941–50 (London, 1952), 1265; New York Times (1 May 1947), 25 Times of London (1, 3, 6, 9, 13 May 1947), all on 7; Obituary Notices of Fellows of the Royal Society of London, 17 (1948), 297–314; and R. T. Mummery, “Sir Almroth Edward Wright, 1861–1947), 731–732. Wright also is mentioned in L. J. Ludovici, Fleming, Discoverer of Penicillin(Bloomington, Ind., 1952); and André Maurois, The Life of Sir AlexanderFleeting, Discoverer of Penicillin (New York, 1959), esp. chs. 3, 4.

Franklin Parker

Wright, Almroth Edward (1861-1947)

views updated Jun 11 2018

Wright, Almroth Edward (1861-1947)

English bacteriologist and immunologist

Almroth Edward Wright is best known for his contributions to the field of immunology and the development of the autogenous vaccine . Wright utilized bacteria that were present in the host to create his vaccines. He also developed an anti-typhoid inoculation composed of heat-killed typhus specific bacilli. Wright was a consistent advocate for vaccine and inoculation therapies, and at the onset of World War I convinced the British military to inoculate all troops against typhus. However, Wright was also interested in bacteriological research. Wright conducted several studies on bacteriological infections in post-surgical and accidental wounds.

Wright was born in Yorkshire, England. He studied medicine at Trinity College Dublin, graduating in 1884. He then studied medicine in France, Germany, and Australia for few years before returning home to accept a position in London. He conducted most of his research at the Royal Victoria Hospital where he was Chair of Pathology at the Army Medical School. In 1899, Wright lobbied to have all of the troops departing to fight in the Boer War in Africa inoculated against typhus. The government permitted Wright to institute a voluntary program, but only a small fraction of troops participated. Typhus was endemic among the soldiers in Africa, and accounted for over 9,000 deaths during the war. Following the return of the troops, the Army conducted a study into the efficacy of the inoculation and for unknown reasons, decided to suspend the inoculation program. Wright was infuriated and resigned his post.

Wright then took a position at St. Mary's Hospital in London. He began a small vaccination and inoculation clinic that later became the renowned Inoculation Department. Convinced that his anti-typhus inoculation worked, he arranged for a second study of his therapy on British troops stationed in India. The results were promising, but the Army largely ignored the new information. Before the eve of World War I, Wright once again appealed to military command to inoculate troops against typhus. Wright petitioned Lord Kitchener in 1914. Kitchener agreed with Wright's recommendation and ordered a mandatory inoculation program.

Most likely owing to his often sparse laboratory settings, Wright revised several experimental methods, publishing them in various journals. One of his most renowned contributions was a reform of common blood and fluid collection procedures. Common practice was to collect samples from capillaries with pipettes, not from veins with a syringe. Like modern syringes, pipettes required suction. This was usually supplied by mouth. Wright attached a rubberized teat to the pipette , permitting for a cleaner, more aseptic, collection of blood and fluid samples. He also developed a disposable capsule for the collection, testing, and storage of blood specimens. In 1912, Wright published a compendium of several of his reformed techniques.

Wright often had to endure the trials of critical colleagues and public health officials who disagreed with some of his innovations in the laboratory and his insistence on vaccine therapies. Wright usually prevailed in these clashes. However, Wright stood in opposition to the most formidable medical movement of his early days, antisepsis. Antiseptic surgical protocols called for the sterilization of all instruments and surgical surfaces with a carbolic acid solution. However, some surgeons and proponents of the practice advocated placing bandages soaked in a weaker form of the solution directly on patient wounds. Wright agreed with the practice of instrument sterilization, but claimed that antiseptic wound care killed more leukocytes, the body's natural defense against bacteria and infection, than harmful bacteria. Wright's solution was to treat wounds with a saline wash and let the body fight infection with its own defenses. Not until the advancement of asepsis, the process of creating a sterile environment within the hospital, and the discovery of antibiotics was Wright's claim re-evaluated.

Wright had a distinguished career in his own right, but is also remembered as the teacher of Alexander Fleming , who later discovered penicillin and antibiotics. During Wright's campaign to inoculate troops before World War I, and throughout the course of his research on wound care, Fleming was Wright's student and assistant. Fleming's later research vindicated many of Wright's theories on wound care, but also lessened the significance of autogenous vaccine therapies. The Inoculation Department in which both Wright and Fleming worked was later renamed in honor of the two scientists.

Wright died, while still actively working at his laboratory in Buckinghamshire, at the age of 85.

See also Immune stimulation, as a vaccine; Immune system; Immunity, active, passive and delayed; Immunity, cell mediated; Immunity, humoral regulation; Immunization