Owen's & Paget's Story
 
Discovery of Trichinella Spiralis
   
Virchow's Story
  Discovery of the Life Cycle
   
Andree's Story
   
 



t was a dark and stormy night. Actually, it was a dark and dreary Monday morning, that February 2 in 1835 when young Jim Paget, a first year medical student at London Hospital Medical School, rushed into the autopsy room at St. Bartholomew's Hospital. The procedure was on-going as he arrived, and the surgeons were not pleased, but not with his tardiness. The 51 yr-old Italian bricklayer who had died of tuberculosis, and that they were now dissecting, also had "sandy diaphragm," a condition that dulled even the sharpest of scalpels. The surgeons hurried the autopsy, since they wanted to finish in time for lunch. Keep in mind that the medical profession neither wore gloves nor washed their hands before eating. No wonder TB was so prevalent among doctors! Well, anyway, when they had all cleared the room, Jim quietly stole back in and removed a small bit of muscle tissue from the diaphragm. He was more than curious as to the nature of "sandy diaphragm". Apparently, the rest of the onlookers were not. Paget's curiosity would take him far, but that's another story altogether.

He first examined it with his trusty hand lens he carried for just such a situation. He thought he saw small worms coiled up inside each nodule and shared his preliminary observations with the only surgeon who apparently was not that hungry, Dr. Thomas Wormald - what an interesting name, considering the circumstances! He informed Wormald of his intention to run the specimen over to the British Museum so that he could give the piece of tissue a closer look under a microscope.

Arriving at the museum, Paget first went to the Zoology Department, but was informed that the only microscope in the building belonged to the soon-to-become-famous botanist, Robert Brown. Brown had become somewhat of a local celebrity following the publication of his elegant description of the movement of pollen grains in water that became known forever after as "Brownian" motion. Even Einstein was impressed with Brown's findings and wrote a detailed mathematical explanation of the mechanism.

After a brief discussion with the botanist-in-residence as to the nature of his visit and his need for a higher power (magnification, that is!), he asked him whether or not he had ever seen a worm under his microscope, and he apparently replied, "No, thank God!" Paget then examined the piece of human tissue under Brown's instrument and saw tiny refractile bodies that sure enough, upon even higher magnification, revealed the presence of coiled worms. Jim went home that night and wrote his older brother, as he had done every night, about the wonderful beast he had just discovered.

Our story now gets a little fuzzy, mostly due to the lack of an accurate historical record! Apparently, Wormald knew Richard Owen, then the assistant curator at the Royal College of Surgeons, whose place of employment was only several blocks down from The Bart, as that hallowed hospital was affectionately known. Wormald proceeded to walk a second piece of tissue from the Italian cadaver over to Owen after reflecting on Paget's cursory assessment as to its potential medical importance. Owen had access to a first-class microscope and saw the same critters as the young medical student had seen. Unlike Paget, however, Owen wrote up his findings, drew a few pictures (almost to actual size, and went on to present the whole affair before the Royal Society three weeks later, ungraciously giving minimal credit to Paget for his original observations.

 
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James Paget went on to become became Sir James Paget, the famous pathologist, and even had a disease named after him. (Frankly, I'd rather have a cure named after me, but such is the world of pathology). Richard Owen also became knighted for his many important contributions to zoology and paleontology. Regrettably, he became a bit over-zealous in his opposition to the now mainstream Darwinian view of creation and evolution. Owen, now the director of the British Museum of Natural History, a building he designed and helped to build, was thoroughly discredited regarding his strongly and religiously-based ideas regarding the origins of humans in a famous public debate at the hands of Darwin's "bull dog", Thomas Huxley. Today, Owens' statue stands as a foreboding, black presence on the second level above the main floor of the British Museum of Natural History, the tail of the supersaurus pointing directly at him, as if to say: "I told you not to argue with Huxley."

The rudiments of the life cycle of Trichinella spiralis were soon unraveled by Rudolf Virchow (see next story) and others. Trichinella spiralis continues to hold our interest, both as a nematode parasite with a complex life style and as a thing of utter beauty.

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[Virchow's Story][Andree's Story]

 
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