Original Repository: Rockefeller Archive Center. Rockefeller Foundation Archives
Reproduced with permission of the Rockefeller Foundation.
Medical Subject Headings (MeSH):
Research Support as Topic
Director of Medical Sciences, 1930-1945
Letter from Alan Gregg to Leonard Colebrook (March 9, 1937)
March 9, 1937
Re: Queen Charlotte Hospital, London - Memo for Trustees' Bulletin
The seven-year grant through the Medical Research Council for investigations at Queen Charlotte Hospital, London, on maternal
mortality permitted the planning of thorough long-term work and so offered attractive opportunities to competent scientific
workers. The Hospital authorities provided space in the form of a research block and the nursing and other care for patients
selected for special study and experimental treatment.
In the words of Dr. Mellanby, the secretary of the British Medical Research Council, "no better project could have been
aided." Three substantial results are to the credit of Dr. Leonard Colebrook and his associates in this study. It has
been shown conclusively that one of the chief dangers to women in childbirth is infection through contamination from pathogenic
germs harbored in the nose and throat of attendants, and that this danger can be greatly reduced through the use of masks
by attending doctors and nurses.
Two drugs, prontosil and sulphonamide, have been shown to have a very considerable effect in the reduction of mortality from
puerperal septicemia due to the streptococcus. In closely observed series instead of six deaths among twenty-five patients
as treated previously there is now only one - a reduction from 25 per cent to 4 per cent mortality. When multiplied by the
number of hospitals that will profit from such knowledge the results may be considered as highly valuable. There is the possibility
that the new drugs can be used effectively for prevention as well as treatment.
A further return which illustrates the unpredictable advantages of enabling competent persons to work under effective conditions
is the following - One Monday morning specimens of urine from five different patients were examined after a delay greater
than as usual. Four were cloudy with the bacterial growth to be expected under such circumstances. One was clear and apparently
free from growth - somebody wondered why and tested the exceptional specimen further out of intelligent curiosity. It showed
a chemical substance which appears when a fat person is living on her fat - i.e., not taking other food. And then the observer
wondered, "then why not try giving nothing but fat to persons with infections of the bladder, for the urine thus modified
might entirely discourage the growth of germs in the urinary tract?" Success attended the application of this hypothesis
and from this seven-year grant in the field of obstetrics has developed a form of treatment for cystitis which because of
its simplicity and effectiveness will find increasing application broadly in medicine throughout the civilized world. The
new drug treatment of puerperal septicemia may also be used in generalized infections other than those associated with childbirth.
In comment upon the project at the Queen Charlotte Hospital the following factors have played a considerable role: the intelligence,
imagination, and tenacity of the research staff; the relatively large promise of a field of study none too well explored hitherto;
and the length and adequacy of the grant (seven years, $15,000 a year). To Dr. Colebrook and his collaborators the principal
credit is due, and to the management of Queen Charlotte Hospital.