Thursday, November 24, 2022

David Bruce (1855–1931) - Scottish pathologist and microbiologist

Sir David Bruce was born in Melbourne, Australia while his Scots father was installing a crushing machine at Sandhurst in the Australian goldfields. He was an only son, and when he was five years of age his parents returned home and settled in Stirling. David was subsequently sent to the Stirling High School, where he remained until he was fourteen years old.

He entered the university with the intention of reading zoology but changed to medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1876. He graduated from Edinburgh in 1881 and spent a large part of his career as a military physician.

In 1881, after obtaining his degree, he became an assistant to Dr. Stone, a practitioner in Reigate, and there met the lady, Miss Mary Elizabeth Steele, who, as his wife and fellow worker in all his subsequent scientific work, was to exert such a marked influence on his life and career.

In 1883, soon after his marriage, David Bruce joined the Army Medical Service and he received his commission as Surgeon-Captain on August 4, 1883.

David and Mary Bruce were assigned to Malta in 1884, where Bruce began a study of an often-fatal disease suffered by English soldiers assigned to the Maltese garrison. The disease, known as Malta, Mediterranean, or undulating fever, caused chills,sweats, and weakness.

He found the hospitals full of patients suffering from a mysterious complaint which sometimes resembled typhoid fever and sometimes malaria. Bruce set up a laboratory in an abandoned shack and spent weeks with the culture medium using Koch's techniques. In 1887 he discovered the causal organism at first called Microccus melitensis but later renamed Brucella melitensis.

Bruce chaired the Mediterranean Fever Commission which sat from 1904-1906 and the commission succeeded in tracing the reservoir of infection to the Maltese goat.

Shortly after his return to England in 1889, Bruce was named an assistant professor of pathology at the Royal Army Medical College at Netley. Several years later, he arrived in Natal, South Africa, to investigate an animal disease known as ‘nagana’, which killed cattle in the Zulu region.

In Africa, he was able proved that Trypanosoma brucei was the causative organism and that the vector was the tsetse fly. This work was of great help with his later research on sleeping sickness (trypanosomiasis).

He returned to Britain in October 1901 and in 1903 was seconded to service in Uganda to study sleeping sickness. The symptoms included long lasting fevers leading to confusion and stupor, and the patients usually had enlarged lymph nodes and spleens.

When Bruce arrived, Aldo Castellani, who was on the verge of leaving, told him that he had found a trypanosome in cerebrospinal fluid. He taught Bruce the techniques for lumbar puncture and specimen examination.

Shortly afterwards Bruce proved that it was the causative organism of sleeping sickness which, like the trypanosome that causes nagana, was transmitted by the tsetse fly. Sleeping sickness is now called trypanosomiasis, the aetiologic agent is Trypanosoma gambiense, and the sole vector the tsetse fly.

Bruce was knighted in 1908. By 1914, the Bruces had returned to England, where David served as commandant of the Royal Army Medical College. He finally retired in 1919. He died twelve years later on the day of his wife's funeral.
David Bruce (1855–1931) - Scottish pathologist and microbiologist

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