Wright, Almroth Edward (1861-1947) (World of Microbiology and Immunology)
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