The Pick Lecture for Nu Kappa Nu Medical Fraternity, University of Chicago, September 3, 1945
Mr. President, gentlemen: I thank you for the honor of allowing me to present the Pick Lecture.
First, let me say a few words about why I, a chemist, am interested in medical research, and in particular in serology. There are two reasons: First, for many years I have worked on the structure of molecules, simple and then more and more complex; and antibodies provide a most interesting structural problem. Second, I have, as everyone has, a natural, human interest in disease - an interest as old as thinking man - Shakespeare, in a play about the Trojan war, had Thersites mention to Patrodus, "...the rotten diseases of the south, the guts-griping, ruptures, catarrhs, loads o' gravel i' the back, lethargies, cold palsies, raw eyes, dirt-rotten livers, wheezing lungs, bladders full of imposthume, sciaticas, lime-kilus i' the palm, incurable bone-aches, and the rivelled fee-simple of the tetter..."
Some of these ailments no longer give us great concern. There has been marvelous progress during the last century: deaths from scarlet fever are in 20 years down 92%, from whooping cough 74%, from measles 91%; osteomyelitis and even bacterial endocarditis are responding to treatment with penicillin.
The consequences of the great success in the treatment of infectious diseases is that the degenerative diseases have become more important. 45% of all deaths are now due to cardiovascular-renal disease; infectious diseases are still second, with cancer third - and much human suffering is caused by the common cold, arthritis, asthma and hay fever, peptic ulcer.
But, if the expectancy of life has increased to 63, why should we not be satisfied? Well, as Thomas Browne said 300 years ago, "The long habit of living indisposeth us for dying."
There are two ways of carrying on medical research. First, direct attack on a particular disease, planned with the use of the information at hand. Second, the fundamental study of the human body, bacteria and viruses and other carriers of disease, and their interaction with each other and with their environment, to obtain new insight, clues that point the way for progress. Our serological studies are in this class.
Dr. Karl Landsteiner introduced me to serology... Perhaps he remembered what Ehrlich had said about serology and structural chemistry (Quote it) (Here discussion of structure of antibodies in relation to specificity and precipitation - 15 slides; anaphylaxis, complement, etc. ignored because I don't understand them. Acknowledgement to Campbell, Pressman and others.)
There is still very much that we do not know - even the gross shapes of globulin molecules and other protein molecules except the viruses. We can hope that the electron microscope will solve the riddles of life that are hidden in the 10 Å to 100 Å region.
And now, young men, let me stop my talk with a word of advice to you - be bold, not timid; do your daily work well, and in addition be ever on the watch for the clear ring around the spot of mold on the cultured late, for the surprising regression of the carcinoma in the patient with erysipelas, for the electronic instrument which makes possible a new operation; do not hold back because some one else knows more chemistry than you do, or has had more clinical experience - remember that you are unique, that no one else has the same combination of inherited characteristics, training, and experience that you have, no one else will see the same patient from the same point of view; remember that the world is moving forward, and be ready to seize the chance when Fate offers, and then make your contribution.