Research into effect of chemical attack could bring better understanding of the spread and control of major illnesses, its scientists claim
Is germ warfare possible? If it is, what defences can be made? The Microbiological Research Establishment at Porton Down, Wiltshire, which was set up during the last war to answer these questions, opened its doors to the press for the first time yesterday.
The story is one of “swords into ploughshares,” for any infection spread by an enemy would be one of the most serious known, and would have to be spread in ways very similar to those of nature. The defensive research of the establishment is important in understanding the spread and control of major illnesses.
The director, Dr D. W. Henderson, pointed out that there was no research on the offensive use of germ warfare and that 90 per cent of the work was published. Workers at the establishment were particularly interested in infections which were difficult to cure.
Anthrax, a fatal disease in cattle and man, had not been seriously studied since the time of Pasteur; they had now produced a successful vaccine. The treatment of Brucella, a disease which produces abortion in cattle and general debility in man, involved many of their successes. They now make a vaccine by a continuous culture which is used by the Ministry of Agriculture. The technique is also used for making antibiotics and alcohol.
The disease concentrates in one part of the body – the reproductive system of cattle, because a growth factor, erythritol, is concentrated there. Promising attempts have been made to use a drug that resembles erythritol sufficiently to deceive the infection. This work may lead to successes in other diseases, like pneumonia, which concentrate their attack.
Germs of staphylococcal infections, that are difficult to cure in hospitals, also make at least six infection factors. These have been separated. One, staphylokinase, prevents blood from clotting, and could be valuable in the treatment of thrombosis.
Some vaccines are effective only when alive and therefore potentially dangerous. The live virus produces chemicals in its reaction with whatever it is infecting. Some of these have been isolated and it may be possible to add them to a dead vaccine to make it effective but safe.
Another study is of the effect of successive infection with different diseases. Tuberculosis, if not fatal, leaves a high resistance to Brucella. An infection with influenza causes the death by anthrax of a subject that has previously been exposed to anthrax. Solving this problem could also solve that of the deaths that occur from other illnesses during an influenza epidemic.