In 1919, Heidelberger and Walter A. Jacobs synthesized a variant of the aromatic arsenical Salvarsan, Paul Ehrlich's "magic
bullet" for syphilis, which proved effective against trypanosomes, the parasites that cause African sleeping sickness.
They called it tryparsamide. Louise Pearce conducted the successful (and to her own health, risky) human field trials of
tryparsamide in the Belgian Congo, a colonial region of Africa in which the disease was endemic. In this letter she described
her voyage to Africa, the conventional treatment for the disease administered in the local hospital in Leopoldville (today
Kinshasa), and Pearce's efforts to enlist sick patients for the trial.
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1920-07-17 (July 17, 1920)
Courtesy of Michael Heidelberger.
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Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
The Making of an Immunologist: Heidelberger's Years at the Rockefeller Institute, 1912-1927
It was very good of you to send me a book for my journey -- and I certainly appreciate your thought of me. As perhaps you
know -- my steamer packages were not put on board the Kronlaud[?] through some body's stupid mistake -- but they were
sent on another boat and I got the box here. Books are more than acceptable in this part of the world -- We get mail only
once a month -- and the local paper contains nothing but advertisements.
I have had a very strenuous and exhausting journey which I'll tell you about on my return -- but at last I am here and
actually at work. At times, I thought that Leopoldville must be on another planet. The laboratory building is in the process
of construction -- but
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the ground floor of 3 rooms is practically finished. There is no electricity at present -- but the permanent equipment is
fairly good. The director has charge of the negro hospital in which there are about 70 advanced cases of sleeping sickness
undergoing the routine [. . .] and Emetique treatment -- 0.5g [. . .] on Monday -- 0.1g emetique on Thursdays. I was given
3 relapses to begin on -- a most unfortunate type of case -- but the next day, an early untreated patient arrived. 2.0 grams
of AG3 cleared the cervical lymph glands of trypanosomes within 21 hours -- and I am now waiting to see when a relapse takes
place. I hope to get more similar cases from the nearest epidemic center -- about 500 miles away!
With best wishes -- a renewed thanks for the book -- I am --