Friday May 25, 2018

Was the First Tuberculosis Hospital in Kentucky built inside a Cave?

Tuberculosis or the “white plague” remained incurable until the discovery of streptomycin in 1943

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Mammoth Cave, Kentucky. Image source: Wikimedia Commons
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In 1842, Bowling Green, Kentucky, the Mammoth Cave held a bizarre scene. Thin figures wearing dressing gowns moved weakly in and out of the huts. There were frequent noises of coughing and hollowing. The cave held consumptive or tuberculosis patients who were volunteers of a medical experiment. The experiment lasted for a short period of 5 months. Five people lost their life inside the cave and the others died soon after getting back to the surface.

ROUTINE OF THE PATIENTS

  • There were 10 wooden cottages located at a distance of about a mile and half from the entrance of the cave where the patients lived. These cottages measured 12×18 feet which had canvas roofs and furrowed floors. There were two stone cottages, one served as the dining room and the other was a residence.
  • Cool air was considered healthy for the patients so they were told to keep the temperature of their cottage as low as possible. The patients controlled the temperature through a stove and thermometer which was present in every cottage.

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Mammoth Cave National Park preserves the cave system and a part of the Green River valley and hilly country of south central Kentucky. This is the world's longest cave system, with more than 365 miles explored. Image: Wikimedia Commons
Mammoth Cave National Park preserves the cave system and a part of the Green River valley and hilly country of south central Kentucky. This is the world’s longest cave system, with more than 365 miles explored.
Image: Wikimedia Commons
  • The residents synced their schedule to that of the outside world. The cave was dark which was lit by fat lamps during the day and with taper candles at night. The residents did not bother about the darkness as they got used to it. The patients spent their time talking to each other, exploring the cave and reading books.
  • The residents attended episcopal services held each Sunday and read sermons. Their meals were brought by outside slaves that usually included venison.

TREATMENT STRATERGY

  • In the 19th century, medical science didn’t have much to offer. Fresh air, healthy food and gentle exercise were the basic tools of treatment. Although cave air was known to improve health according to physicians belonging to the era.
  • The air inside the Mammoth cave is believed to be exceptionally potent. It maintained a temperature of 60 Fahrenheit and was a bit moist. It was proved to be beneficial for the lungs and imparted energy.
  • The promoters of the cave noted that the workers inside the cave’s saltpeter mine never fell ill. Some of the oldest newspapers belonging to that era noted that human and animal remains found inside the Mammoth cave were still undecayed and intact.

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  • Owing to the curative properties of the cave air, Dr. John Croghan purchased the Mammoth cave for $10,000 in 1839 and built a large health resort. In the year 1842, he welcomed 11 patients who began Croghan’s medical experiment.

THE HARDSHIPS

  • The patients believed that their deteriorating condition justified participating in this unusual action.
  • One patient claimed that he felt stronger, took the exercise and preserved a good diet.
  • However, one can’t deny the difficulties of cave life. The patients wished to go return home to their families as they were feeling isolated. There was lack of lightening and a lot of smoke from cooking fires.
  • Reportedly, only one person named Oliver H.P Anderson returned home after the end of medical experiment. A slave and cave guide said that the patients looked like a company of skeletons.
  • After 5 patients died, their bodies were laid put on the Corpse Rock. After the beginning of the deaths, Croghan ended the medical experiment as made the patients return. These patients died not long after they returned home.

AFTER THE EXPERIMENT

  • Croghan never said or published anything about the disastrous result of the experiment. He did not display any feelings about the people who lost their lives. Croghan was hesitant to accept failure.
  • However, physicians believe that fresh air is a good remedy for tuberculosis even after the Cave experiment failed. Croghan gave up on the idea to turn the cave into a health resort. He glorified the cave by turning it into a tourist destination which still persists.
  • No other physician ever repeated this medical experiment and no their patient took residence in this cave. The wooden huts were dismantled whereas the stone cottages remain standing.
  • Just like his patients, Dr. Croghan also died of tuberculosis in 1849.

MODERN BELIEFS

  • Horace C. Hovey, in his 1882 guide book, says, “The air is slightly exhilarating and sustains one in a ramble of five or ten hours, so that at its end he is hardly sensible of fatigue”
  • Stories of the cave came to be popular among the cave’s visitors and literature.
  • The cave’s visitors reported hearing coughing sounds from around the huts in the cave.
A national park ranger guiding tourists through Mammoth Cave Image: Wikimedia Commons
A national park ranger guiding tourists through Mammoth Cave
Image: Wikimedia Commons
  • Croghan’s experiment is still appreciated by many physicians. The cool climate is believed to cure consumptives.
  • Physicians of the mid-19th century noted that the absence of light made the disease worse and led to increase in deposition of tubercles in the lungs.
  • Tuberculosis or the “white plague” remained incurable until the discovery of streptomycin in 1943.
  • Visitors today enjoy exploring this dark, gloomy and bizarre place. The site is being operated by National Park Service since 1941. It offers tours of the cave and its surroundings.
  • The visitors have to go for the Violet City Lantern Tour or Historic Tour of the Cave to view the stoned tuberculosis huts.
  • The NPS does not allow people with serious health conditions to take the tour even though people claim that cave air improves their health.

-by Shubhi Mangla, an intern at Newsgram. Twitter @shubhi_mangla

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  • Vrushali Mahajan

    This is just the story of one invention. There are thousands of inventions which much more fascinating stories

Next Story

New Therapy for Drug-Resistant Skin Cancer Suggested by Researchers

A team of researchers has managed to exploit a vulnerability in melanoma or skin cancer that develops resistance to a targeted therapy, providing a potential new therapeutic strategy to selectively kill the drug-resistant cancer cells.

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The reason for increased bleeding is not known. It may be because rivaroxaban is more 'potent', the paper published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology said. (IANS)
Representational image, pixabay

A team of researchers has managed to exploit a vulnerability in melanoma or skin cancer that develops resistance to a targeted therapy, providing a potential new therapeutic strategy to selectively kill the drug-resistant cancer cells.

The study has shown that when cancer cells develop drug resistance, they also acquire a new vulnerability, the Xinhua reported.

The researchers, led by Rene Bernards of the Netherlands Cancer Institute and Oncode Institute in Denmark, exposed this new vulnerability in melanoma that has developed resistance to treatment with a BRAF inhibitor — a targeted therapy that blocks a signalling pathway in the cancer cell through which it gets the message to keep on dividing.

Since more than half of all melanoma patients have a mutation in this BRAF gene, the BRAF-inhibitor stops tumour growth in those patients.

But within a few months, the tumour cell adapts the original signalling pathway and becomes active again, and even hyperactive.

The researchers, however, found that the hyperactive resistant melanoma cells produced large amounts of reactive oxygen species, but cancer cells still sensitive to the drug did not do so.

Combining the new compound with vitamin D allowed certain protective genes to be expressed at much higher levels than they are in diseased cells.
Representational image, pixabay

The study, published in the journal Cell, found that the abundance of free radicals caused the resistant melanoma cells to stop dividing, but they did not die.

When tested on mice along with an existing drug, vorinostat, which is known to stimulate the production of free oxygen radicals, the researchers saw tumours shrink under the influence of the drug, the report said.

This laid the foundation for a new therapeutic strategy: Treating patients with BRAF-mutated melanoma, as usual, with signal pathway inhibitors.

When the tumour becomes resistant, stop giving those inhibitors and immediately treat the patients with vorinostat to kill the resistant cancer cells.

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“It is not a combination drug. It is very important that you first stop the signalling pathway inhibitors because they suppress the free radicals and thus eliminate the effects of vorinostat,” Bernards said. (IANS)