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The museum’s collections contain many objects that document antibody-based methods of preventing, treating, or diagnosing disease, but which have not yet been given their own disease-specific section on this website. This section provides an overview of a few of these other types of vaccines, treatments, and diagnostics.
Be sure to see the full range of these widely varied objects in the attached object records after the essay.
Therapies, Vaccines, and Diagnostics Not Covered in Disease-Specific Website Sections
Numerous serums and antitoxins developed to fight diseases such as scarlet fever, dysentery, and botulism are held by the museum. Other examples include anti-pneumococcic serum to treat pneumonia, anti-meningococcic serum to treat meningitis, and perfringens antitoxin to treat gas gangrene.
The collections also include vaccines against plague, hookworm, and anthrax, recombinant vaccines to prevent hepatitis B, and vaccines intended to prevent cholera.
Diagnostics that test the body’s immunity to disease are well-represented in the collections. The museum has also collected antibody-based tests that can diagnose whether health risks, such as plague, are present in the environment.
From the 1920s to the 1950s, pharmaceutical companies such as Lederle, H.K. Mulford, Sharpe & Dohme, and Parke, Davis & Co. produced a wide range of products intended to test for, treat, and even prevent allergies to common environmental irritants such as house dust, animal proteins, foods, poison ivy and oak, and an abundant variety of pollens. These products represent the period’s general excitement around the idea that immunizations might be able to prevent a multitude of health problems. The objects also document early research into the part antibodies and immunity play in allergic reactions.
Early research into immunotherapy and cancer treatment is documented in the museum’s collections. One example is Coley’s Mixture, a bacterial mixture manufactured by Parke, Davis & Co. “for the treatment of malignant neoplasms, particularly sarcoma.” The product was inspired by the work of William B. Coley, who in 1891 provided one of the first proofs of the potential value of immunotherapy when he treated a patient with cancer by causing an infection at the site of the tumor through an injection of streptococcus bacteria.
Some of the collection’s more unusual objects offer insight into a period in American medical research when the potential of immunotherapies was being probed and tested. “Immunogen” treatments for streptococcal arthritis and bee venom solution for diagnosis and treatment of arthritis are just a few examples of such objects in the collections.