Letter from Michael Heidelberger to Enrique E. Ecker, Western Reserve University
In this letter, Heidelberger rearticulated criticism of laboratory findings and methods reported by Ecker and his coworkers,
criticism first advanced in the manuscript of a forthcoming article by Heidelberger and others on the comparison between human
and guinea pig complement. The letter illustrates Heidelberger's role as arbitrator, critic, and guardian of a uniform
terminology in the new field of complement chemistry, a field Heidelberger helped launch in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
He proved that complement was made up of a group of specific chemical substances that could be isolated in the laboratory,
and that it had essential functions in activating host defense mechanisms against invading microorganisms.
Number of Image Pages:
2 (168,717 Bytes)
1945-04-24 (April 24, 1945)
Ecker, Enrique E.
Western Reserve University. Institute of Pathology
This item is in the public domain. It may be used without permission.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Complement System Proteins
Antigens and Antibodies: Heidelberger and The Rise of Quantitative Immunochemistry, 1928-1954
Letter from Enrique E. Ecker, Western Reserve University to Michael Heidelberger (April 17, 1945)
I have read your letter, Seifter's dissertation, and the review article (which I had not seen, being still way back on
the Nov. and Dec. journals) with the greatest interest. Since you have independently adopted much the same principles as
we have, I agree that nothing would be gained by going into details. All of this happened just as the page proof came in,
so (at great expense) I have made most of the changes you suggested, and I believe you will be satisfied when you see the
paper in the May J. Exp. Med. From the brief conversations we had, I did not realize that the gap between our methods had
narrowed so much. Under the circumstances, I do not think the original version was ungenerous, for when a really misleading
method is recommended in half-a-dozen papers over a couple of years it is surely up to someone to call attention to its shortcomings.
However, now that I know you are on the way to correct the situation yourselves I really feel much happier that it is going
to be going to be done that way.
Speaking of generosity, what about Seifter's disparaging--and silly--appraisal of the quantitative method in his dissertation?
I'm also waiting for your group to write a new paper on that and correct much of the contents of your original one.
Now for Seifter's work. The method of initial concentrations had done a lot to straighten matters out for you, but it
does not go far enough. If he now gets almost the same results as we do with his C it is only because one would necessarily
be luckier with the new method than the old one. As we see it here, he is still working in the dark with a very arbitrary
and cumbersome method, and with no positive assurance that his reagents contain all required components in excess, subscribing
to this requirement in principle only. What is the objective to running an old-fashioned titration at any level of hemolysis
you want? Also, why do you report percentage reactivations? Surely no one yet knows the relation between this result and
quantity of component. If Maltaner is right it is anything but a proportional one. And why do you talk about "concentrations"
and "effective concentrations" when other publications of yours show that you realize that the terms can only cause
confusions when you really mean "titers"? Also, Seifter's use of the word "unit" is so loose as to deprive
it of all meaning.
It seems to me that in spite of our agreement on principles our methods of putting them into use are so divergent that too
great a gulf still exists between our laboratories. I should like very much to have a San Francisco Conference of our own,
where we can sit down and thrash out these matters and get to the bottom of it all. So I cordially invite you and Seifter,
and Pillemer if wants to come, to drop in at my laboratory, preferably some time before Seifter's work gets to the proof
stage, and you all, and Mayer and I, the only two of our complement team left, will fight it out until some agreement is reached.
Otherwise, I fear the same situation with arise again, and I don't like to indulge in polemics with my friends any more
that you do.
I expect to be until away until the end of May, so come along any time after that. Bring your fiddle and we'll play some
Haydn sonatas (unaccompanied, Op. 93, I think) and the Brahms horn trio we have any energy left. How about it?