American Florence Seibert developed a reliable test for TB, which has helped saved millions of lives.
In the early 1900s, tuberculosis, a bacteria that settles in the lungs and eats them away, continued to be among the deadliest diseases, killing one in seven people in the U.S. and Europe.
Before the turn of the century, German scientist Robert Koch had discovered tuberculin, which is a heated extract of the TB bacteria that could be used to screen for the disease. But scientists struggled to produce a reliable formula for tuberculin that could produce consistent results. An accurate TB test was critical for controlling the spread of this highly contagious disease.
Enter Florence Seibert. Born in 1897 in Easton, Pennsylvania, Seibert was stricken with polio as a child and left with a severe limp. Since she couldn’t run and play outside like most children, she turned her attention to excelling in school, especially science. She was a natural.
In 1932, Seibert set out to develop a standardized tuberculin that could be easily replicated. Two decades earlier, the Mantoux tuberculin skin test — which works by injecting people in their forearms with a small amount of the TB antigens to see if there is an immune response — had become the go-to tool for detecting the disease. But the Mantoux test was based on Koch’s unreliable original tuberculin formula, which contained an unknown mixture of carbohydrate and protein antigens, as well as antigens from beef broth used in the culture.
While at the Phipps Institute of the University of Pennsylvania, Seibert discovered that the proteins in Koch’s tuberculin mix were critical. She spent the next several years trying to isolate them to make a more consistent formula. Through a method of steaming TB cultures and then purifying the proteins, she produced the purified protein derivative (PPD). Seibert’s PPD formula was adopted as the gold standard for TB testing by the U.S. Public Health Service in 1941 and the World Health Organization in 1952, and is still widely used today.
According to the World Health Organization, about a third of the world’s population is infected with TB today, including 500,000 who are sick with drug-resistant TB. Early and accurate diagnosis of TB, which was pioneered by Seibert, continues to be a priority in helping contain the spread of the disease.
“Life seems to go on without effort when I am filled with music.” – George Eliot
Instinctually, intuitively, we know that music makes life better.
For millennia, humans have used music to soothe to our souls and comfort pain. Parents worldwide sing lullabies to the young and mark special occasions such as birthdays, graduations, and weddings with song. We rely on music to help us power through workouts and tackle tasks we’d rather ignore, and we manipulate our moods with melodies.
Arctic creatures have a variety of adaptations for surviving subzero temperatures. Now, science is hoping to borrow a few of their techniques to extend the shelf life of human organs. Some creatures head south to survive the winter, but the North American wood frog stays put, enduring subzero temperatures by transforming into a frozen “frogsicle.” With no heartbeat or breathing for prolonged periods, the partially frozen amphibian gradually thaws and hops back to life as spring emerges.
Most people struggle with pain at some point in their life, and when it gets bad enough it can be a debilitating condition. However, while pain has its obvious and sometimes devastating downside, our ability to feel physical pain is also part of maintaining our health. For a time, physicians even referred to pain as “the fifth vital sign,” because it can be important to understanding the state of a person’s health and point to the presence of disease.