Malaria and Ross

Continuing with my Nobel Prize theme, I’ve been looking at the collections relating to Ronald Ross (1857-1932). Ross won the Nobel Prize for Physiology /Medicine in 1902 for his work on malaria.

Ronald Ross (Wellcome Images)

In 1897, five years after he started working on malaria, Ross established the life cycles of the mosquito. He proved the hypothesis of his predecessors Alphonse Laveran and Patrick Manson. Laveran would later win the 1907 Nobel Prize for his work.

But he wasn’t the only one working on the subject – Giovanni Grassi was working on the life cycles of mosquitoes at the same time and came to the same conclusions as Ross. It is hard to determine who made the discovery first, but it is Ross’ name that is now attached to the mosquito/malaria story. Understandably, the rivalry between the two was bitter.

Ross worked mainly in India where he was born, in a primitive bungalow laboratory equipped only with a microscope to do his research.

Ronald Ross's microscope, c. 1900 ( Science Museum, London)

The only treatment for malaria at the time was quinine from cinchona bark. Ross’ discovery meant that the carriers of the disease, malaria, could be targeted for the first time.

Anti-mosquito spray gun, 1914-1918 ( Science Museum, London )

A range of nets, hoods and protective clothing were brought out. Many are similar to mosquito nets used today, although they are now impregnated with pesticide as an added layer of protection.

Ross was knighted in 1911 and 1926 became Director of the Ross Institute and Hospital for Tropical Diseases in London, which was founded in his honour. Every three years it awards the awards the Ronald Ross medal to those who make outstanding contributions to research or other work in tropical public health or tropical medicine.

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