Letter from D. Carleton Gajdusek, The Children's Hospital (Cincinnati, Ohio) to Michael Heidelberger
In this letter, Gajdusek described sera he had collected for studying the connection between disease, in particular nephritis
(inflammation of the kidneys), and the level of complement, proteins that play an essential role in host defense mechanisms.
Gajdusek hypothesized that complement levels declined with the onset of disease, and rose again during recovery. Unable to
carry out the necessary titrations himself, he had left the sera with Heidelberger, in the hope that the latter would be able
to carry out the appropriate experiments. Gajdusek here provides details about the processing, handling, and storage of sera
in the early postwar years.
Number of Image Pages:
2 (202,974 Bytes)
1948-03-23 (March 23, 1948)
Gajdusek, D. Carleton
Children's Hospital (Cincinnati, Ohio)
Reproduced with permission of D. Carleton Gajdusek.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Complement System Proteins
Antigens and Antibodies: Heidelberger and The Rise of Quantitative Immunochemistry, 1928-1954
Letter from D. Carleton Gajdusek, The Children's Hospital (Cincinnati, Ohio) to Michael Heidelberger (February 28, 1948)
Letter from Michael Heidelberger to D. Carleton Gajdusek, The Children's Hospital (Cincinnati, Ohio) (March 29, 1948)
I write to explain my visit to your laboratory a few days ago on which I failed to meet you. I had taken a quick trip to
New York City to see the Merck Fellowship Board about my application for a Merck Fellowship of the NRC and took the opportunity
to transport to your dry ice box a supply of nephritic and control sera I had collected. They had all been promptly separated
after venepuncture and had been kept frozen in dry ice here and en route to New York.
I had written to you a week or so ago about the possibility of getting a few more complement titrations done in your laboratory
to settle the problem of complement in nephritis. In that letter I outlined the extent to which the previous studies had
The sera which I brought to you were serial sera drawn during the course of acute glomerulonephritis on 9 nephritic children
(We have been having an unprecedented run of this disease here). There are included several normal sera from children the
same ages as controls. This single batch of some 30-35 sera should be sufficient to prove rather conclusively the suspected
complement drop in acute glomerulonephritis since it constitutes a large enough series with certain enough diagnoses and with
adequate controls. I have listed in the notebook the case histories and dates samples were drawn etc. on all sera which are
recorded according to the number on the tubes. You are welcome to the record book if you should find it possible to have
the titrations done someday.
I apologize for leaving the sera before I discussed the matter with you. I trust they will not be in the way, for they are
all included in one large can. One tube - the only large tube present - is not numbered and that tube bears the patient's
name on it. It is a specimen which stood 24 hours in an ice box before freezing and, although its complement value would be
of interest, it is not as carefully handled a specimen as the rest in the series. Tube No. 8 appears 3 times. This is because
the single serum specimen was separated into three different containers (plastic, glass with cork, glass with stopper) in
order to check reproducibility of results of sera treated similarly and stored slightly differently.
I am continuing; to draw sera - no longer in the random fashion in which I first drew them while in New York - but according
to a plan to obtain frequent sera on nephritics during convalescence to check the regeneration of complement. Also, a few
scarlet fever cases will be so followed in the hope of picking up a nephritic before nephritis is clinically evident and also
in order to settle the argument that antibody production to strep per se - without nephritic complication - in post-scarlet
fever patients produces a drop in complement. I do not believe there is any basis for such a claim.
Again I beg your pardon for having unable to wait longer at P & S to see you and discuss the possibility of someone there
doing the titrations. If it proves impossible, I hope you will not mind maintaining the sera in frozen state in the package
in which they rest until I can someday find the time and facilities to handle them. I am convinced that the group of sera
form a highly significant sample which in themselves should prove or disprove the supposition which was strongly supported
by the previous work.
I have been awarded the National Research Council Fellowship in Medical Science and this I shall use next fall, at California
Institute of Technology. I had also applied to the Merck Fellowship Board and that board requested the interview which brought
me to New York. I do not know whether they also awarded me a fellowship or not. If they have done so, it will be a difficult
problem to decide which to take.
Again, I thank you for your help last year. I shall send you a complete table of the serum specimens which have been left
in the far dry ice ice box on your floor.
D. Carleton Gajdusek M.D.
P.S. The plastic tubes - sterilized with ultraviolet) have been used for frozen sera for a long time by Dr. Sabin in his virology
work here. Sera are well stored in these without the danqer of breakage during thawing and refreezing and Dr. Sabin has not
found pH changes occurring in tubes tightly closed which interfere with antibody or virus studies. I should like your opinion
of their use?