In the 1930s Phillips Thygeson and his associates were performing experiments to prove that the elementary bodies from the Halberstaedter-Prowazek inclusions were the infectious agent of trachoma. Using epithelium scraped from the eyes of infected children, they produced an ultrafiltrate of elementary bodies which they inoculated into the eye of a human volunteer, Clarence Brown. Brown’s left orbit had been exenterated due to advanced conjunctival epidermoid carcinoma, but the tumor had spread to his brain. Since he knew he was going to die, he volunteered to be inoculated in his remaining eye and developed a classic case of trachoma. Treatment with copper sulfate applications eventually produced a complete cure. Unfortunately, soon after his cure Brown and his wife were killed in an automobile accident. Thygeson reported this experiment in the American Journal of Ophthalmology in 1935, documenting the etiologic cause of trachoma without a culture.
Submitted by Robert M. Feibel, MD, for the Cogan Ophthalmic Historical Society.