World Hepatitis Day is marked each year on July 28th. Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver tissue, which can have a variety of causes and reveal itself in a variety of symptoms.
The medical community's understanding of hepatitis has changed considerably since 1850, when Rush Medical College student Benjamin F. Stephenson wrote his thesis titled simply, "Hepatitis." This is the earliest mention of hepatitis that we can find in the Rush University Medical Center Archives and can be found in the 1850-1851 Annual Announcement of Rush Medical College* [left].
Although Dr. Stephenson's thesis itself cannot be found in our collection, we imagine that his information from 1850 about hepatitis would be a bit outdated today. However, it's a reminder that today's discoveries, research, and practice are built on a long legacy of researchers, practitioners, and students of the past.
The medical community's understanding of hepatitis developed considerably during World War II. During the war, vaccines stabilized with contaminated human serum created an epidemic of hepatitis among American soldiers. Once the cause was understood and this seed virus strain was changed, these incidences of jaundice disappeared.
One hundred years after Dr. Stephenson's 1850 Rush Medical College thesis, Rush's predecessor hospital, St. Luke's Hospital, was engaging in important liver research through their Liver Research Laboratory, established in 1947.
In 1951, St. Luke's News**, the newsletter of St. Luke's Hospital, ran a feature on the Liver Research Laboratory [right], which provides information about the highlights in hepatitis research at that time:
Perhaps the most important scientific research which the laboratory has undertaken is a study of the epidemiology of infectious hepatitis. This disease is the virus infection of the liver, which was so prevalent in our Armed Forces during the last war, and which is coming to be recognized as one of the most common infectious diseases among our civilian population. A comprehensive investigation of a prolonged epidemic in a Chicago orphanage has brought to light a number of new and important facts concerning this disease.
For example, it has been found that this disease frequently occurs in infants and small children in a hitherto unrecognized form. Methods for diagnosis of such cases have been determined for the first time. The means by which the disease is spread has been clarified. Using this new information, it has been possible to control completely the adult epidemic in this institution. We are now working on methods of immunization in order to control the epidemic among the children.
Notably, this laboratory was staffed by women. Chemist Elizabeth Mills (above, with Drs. Capps and Marshall) worked with two laboratory technicians, Siu Tsien (left) and Melba Pierotti (right). In this photograph, Tsien and Pierotti are extracting coproporphyrins, one of the specialized techniques performed in the Liver Research Laboratory.
You can read this piece in the St. Luke's News September 1951 issue here: https://archive.org/details/stlukesnews12stlu/page/n81/mode/2up
To learn more about the history of Rush or the Rush Archives collections, please visit our website or contact the archivist, Nathalie Wheaton, MSLS.
*From the Rush Medical College Annual Announcement, 1850-1851, from the Rush Medical College Records, #4707, Rush University Medical Center Archives, Chicago, Ill.
**From St. Luke's News, September 1951, from the St. Luke's Hospital Records, #4704, Rush University Medical Center Archives, Chicago, Ill.
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