Bodleian display charts milestones in management of tuberculosis

6 October 2016

Visitors have just a few days left to see a display at the Bodleian Libraries that charts some of the ground breaking scientific discoveries that have advanced our understanding of tuberculosis (TB) and helped combat the disease.

Image of lungs illustrated by Robert Carswell in Pathological anatomy, illustrations of the elementary forms of disease, London, 1838This small, free display is open until 16 October at the Weston Library.

Tuberculosis has been present in humans since ancient times and throughout history has been known by a number of names including 'consumption' and 'the white plague.' It is often thought of as a disease of the past but tuberculosis continues to infect millions of people every year and has recently overtaken HIV/AIDS as the leading cause of death from infectious disease worldwide. Today, it is estimated that approximately one third of the human population has latent tuberculosis (showing no symptoms) and that of those infected, up to 10 percent will develop active tuberculosis at some point.

Image of ring containing John Keats' hair, Bodleian Libraries, Cons. Res. Objects 65Visitors to the display can read Greek philosopher Aristotle's ideas about how tuberculosis spreads, see 19th century anatomical paintings based on autopsies and learn about the work of two pioneers of microbiology Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch. Other highlights include a letter to Percy Bysshe Shelley from fellow poet John Keats, who died of tuberculosis aged 25, as well as a ring containing Keats's hair, and scientific artefacts such as the BCG vaccine, in use since the 1910s.

Image of the Oxford Immunotec T-SPOT.TB testThe display, Tuberculosis: Milestones of Discovery and Innovation, was curated by Dr Ron Cox of The BioLogica TB Trust, a charitable organisation which promotes improved understanding of tuberculosis and which also loaned items for the display. Additional loans and assistance came from both the Jenner Institute, part of the Nuffield Department of Medicine at Oxford University, and Oxford Immunotec, a spin-out company from the University of Oxford. Immunotec has recently discovered a novel and accurate method of identifying latent tuberculosis in patients. Their T-SPOT.TB test is used every eleven seconds across the world and is featured in the display.

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