CPP Curiosities: Bad Medicine, Part One: Krebiozen

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Greetings, again, fellow historico-medico aficionados, and welcome to the latest installment of CPP Curiosities, our (semi) regular segment on all things thought provoking from the history of medicine. Past installments have run the gamut, from baseball legend Ted Williams’ cryogenically frozen remains, to the Greek demi-god of medicine who defeated death, to graverobbing after graverobbing after graverobbing.

On November 5, 2019, The Mütter Museum of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia unveiled a brand new exhibit examining cancer biology. Mixed Signals: A Study of Cancer addresses how cancer behaves, common cancer types, the three most common forms of treatment, and ways to help reduce your risk. The exhibit was created by students in the fifth cohort of The Karabots Junior Fellows Program, a three-year summer and after-school program for Philadelphia high school students interested in careers in healthcare and medicine. The exhibit was part of a joint program with Swarthmore College to teach the public about cell signalling and cellular miscommunication and was made possible through a grant from The National Science Foundation. Students in the Karabots program also designed a complimentary lesson designed to teach middle school students about the ways cancer behaves and the relationship between cell signaling and cancer.

Main exhibit label for Mixed Signals: A Study of Cancer

The three most common forms of cancer treatment are colloquially known as “slash, burn, poison,” referring to surgery, chemotherapy, and radiotherapy. But what if I told you that you can treat yours or a love one’s cancer without resorting to surgery, medication, or radiation? Maybe there’s a magic pill that can cure cancer with none of the side effects of mainstream treatments? Maybe illness is just a state of mind, one we can counteract with the right degree of positive thinking? All this and more are out there for you…for a price.

Our students’ diligent efforts to learn about cancer inspired me to do some cancer research of my own. This led me down a research rabbit hole of cancer treatments and cures that are, for lack of a better term, not legitimate. It may come as no surprise that there is a long history of people peddling false or unproven cancer cures, taking advantage of cancer patients and their loved ones desperate for a miracle.

Alleged miracle cancer cures take on many forms, from supposedly natural supplements, to synthetic chemicals, to hitherto undiscovered anti-cancer agents hidden in the body, or even magical cancer-killing machines. However, their advocates share some notable similarities regardless of their angle. Most argue that cancer has some simple root cause that has hitherto eluded physicians, a root cause that has a simple chemical or mechanical solution. That solution specifically targets the cancer, quickly and easily destroying it with absolutely no side effects. Moreover these techniques have been known for years; however, their use is being suppressed deliberately by mainstream medical organizations, governments, pharmaceutical corporations, or a legion of other confederates who withhold the truth so they can profit from the suffering of cancer patients.

So, with in mind, join me for a journey through some spurious scientists, miracle-pushing machinists, and dubious doctors in a series I am calling Bad Medicine.

Bad Medicine: Episode One, Krebiozen

Image Source: Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

In the late 1940s, Yugoslavian physician Stevan Durovic claimed to develop a miraculous cancer cure while living in Argentina. His chemical, initially dubbed “substance X” and later renamed Krebiozen, was allegedly derived from a substance extracted from horse blood. According to Durovic, cancer was caused by a lack of this mysterious “Krebiozen” substance in the body, and adding more either through pills or injections caused cancer cells to shrink.

He brought his supposed miracle cure to the United States in 1951 and established the Krebiozen Research Foundation in Chicago, Illinois. There he developed some powerful local connections, including U.S. Senator Paul Douglas and Dr. Andrew C. Ivy. Ivy was a prominent cancer research scientist, a former medical adviser for the prosecution at the Nuremberg Hearings who claimed credit for developing the Nuremberg Code for medical experimentation on human test subjects, and Vice President of the University of Illinois. Ivy became Durovic’s gateway into the mainstream medical community, introducing his alleged cure to the world in a 1951 press event. Douglas, meanwhile, managed to secure Durovic, his brother, and their families permanent residency in the United States.

However, such bold claims inevitably attracted scrutiny. In 1959, the National Cancer Institute with endorsements from the American Cancer Society and the American Medical Association called upon Durovic to allow researchers to test the drug’s efficacy. Durovic long asserted that the development of Krebiozen was a closely-guarded secret, which is often a red flag when it comes to medical research as many studies rely on reporting findings so other scientists can verify a study’s claims. Researchers later concluded that Krebiozen was nothing more than mineral oil containing creatine monohydrate, a naturally-occurring substance responsible for muscle growth (today creatine supplements are frequently used by people with muscle growth deficiencies or in bodybuilding).

In 1965, Durovic, his brother Marko, Ivy, and Dr. William F.P. Phillips were brought up on 42 counts of fraud as well as other charges related to the manufacture, sale, and use of their phony cancer cure. While a jury acquitted them of all charges in January 1966, the FDA banned interstate transportation of Krebiozen outside of Illinois and the Illinois legislature banned its sale in 1973. Once a prominent physician, Ivy’s reputation never recovered. (For more on the FDA’s investigation, there is this fascinating account by former FDA lawyer William Goodrich, pgs. 41-47.

For more information on the Krebiozen case, see this September 15, 2018, overview in The Chicago Tribune and this August 26, 2017, Washington Post article on FDA scientist Alma Levant Hayden, who scientifically proved Krebiozen was a fraud.

With that, our first installment of Bad Medicine is in the books. I hope you’ll tune in for our journey to find the “real” cure for cancer.

Until next time, catch you on the strange side!

Air Pollution: How Air Affects Us, and How We Affect Air

Healthy environments lead to healthy inhabitants. Just as much as we affect the environment with our actions, the environment affects us whenever we interact with it, which as you can imagine happens quite often. One of the most important necessities for our body is oxygen, which of course comes from the air. Since we depend on the contents of the air so much, it goes without saying that pollution in the air is not good for humanity, or anything on the planet for that matter. This kind of pollution is a bigger killer than some may realize at first glance, and it is highly likely it will continue to get bigger at the current rate. Currently, outdoor and indoor air pollution are responsible for 4.2 million and 3.8 million deaths per year respectively. Over 90% of the world’s population lives somewhere in which air quality falls outside of the standard air quality guidelines as set by the WHO.

A photograph taken in Philadelphia

A photograph taken in Philadelphia, the Mütter Museum’s hometown

Air pollution is also responsible for the following:

  • 29% of all deaths and disease from lung cancer
  • 17% of all deaths and disease from acute lower respiratory infection
  • 24% of all deaths from stroke
  • 25% of all deaths and disease from ischaemic heart disease
  • 43% of all deaths and disease from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Despite air pollution affecting every population, there are certain populations that are actually more affected than others. Generally speaking, lower income countries, as well as communities that live near high traffic and industrial sites are the ones that are most likely to be impacted by pollution in the air. About 90% of deaths mentioned in the aforementioned premature death statistic happened within countries that are considered mid-income to low-income.

Encased coal miner's lung

A visual example of how breathing in poor air can affect lungs on a greater scale to give an idea of how similar effects can take place on an everyday level.
Image taken from Mütter Museum collection.

Another important factor to take note of when speaking of air pollution is people who already have pre-existing conditions unrelated to the pollution. The pollution can worsen an existing condition, especially in young children and elders. These include heart disease, lung disease, and asthma. Even lungs that are not fully developed yet can have reductions in their growth rate or ability to function if exposed.

Our own health isn’t the only thing at risk. The environment that we all live in is doomed to meet a similar fate if air pollution stays a prominent factor. The climate and ecosystems all around the globe can deteriorate as much as we can, and they already have started to show some signs that they are. Specific pollutants such as methane and black carbon are powerful contributors to changes that can be alarming in the long run such as climate change and productivity in agriculture. Just looking at recent events, such as how climate change is talked about politically, or how the amazon forest fires started up, we can see that the once negative possibilities of pollution are already starting to become a reality, and will only get worse if things are not changed from their current state.
What can we do? First, it’s vital to know what role we as a society have in making air pollution worse. Some of the ways that humans have a direct impact on air quality include:

  • Fuel combustion
  • Generating of heat and power
  • Industrial work
  • Burning of waste
  • Using polluting fuels to cook, heat, and light
Factory emitting exhaust into the sky

Factory emitting exhaust into the sky; one example of many of how we pollute the air.

It is becoming more apparent each day that we need to take some sort of action if we want air pollution to stop affecting us and the environment. This is not a problem that will just go away if we wait long enough. Cooperation across all sectors in reducing our reliance on damaging aspects of life, while a hard task to accomplish, is crucial to kick-starting the end to the problem. Society needs to start making the change to cleaner transportation and power before the negative effects become worse than they already are, and that should just be the beginning. Changes in city structuring, recycling as much as possible, replacing appliances that are damaging, and much more can help make a difference both in the short and long term. If you care about the issue, it can’t hurt to spread the information in any way you can, as awareness on the problem at hand is the first step to making the change. You can’t just buy another Earth if it goes kaput like you can with a cell phone or something like that, so it’s important to take care of the one we have.

Environmental Defense Fund: Health Impacts of Air Pollution

World Health Organization: Air Pollution

Portrait of a Fellow: Chevalier Jackson

Greetings and salutations, fellow historico-medico aficionados. Today’s installment is the second in a series we are calling “Portrait of a Fellow,” where we introduce you to notable medical professionals who make up our esteemed body of Fellows of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. The first article in this series highlighted noted physician and civil rights activist Nathan Francis Mossell. Today, we welcome another guest author to make you better acquainted with another of our past Fellows. I turn the floor over to Xavier Gavin, one of our dedicated team of Mütter Museum docents and an alum of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program. He is here to talk about noted otolaryngologist Chevalier Jackson. 

Take it away, Xavier!

The Chevalier Jackson collection is a large assortment of objects that were once swallowed by people accidentally. The collection has over 2000 objects, most of which are on display inside of the staircase in drawers on the lower level in the Mütter Museum. The objects range from pins, to buttons, to animal bones, to Cracker Jack figures, and so on.

Swallowed Objects from the Chevalier Jackson Collection, College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Swallowed Objects from the Chevalier Jackson Collection, College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Chevalier Jackson was born in Pittsburgh in 1865. Jackson’s childhood was full of trouble and trauma. He was bullied in school continuously because of his sensitive demeanor and small stature; once, bullies threw him into an abandoned mine. However, as a child, he always seemed to be drawn to statistics and recording information. When he became interested in skating, he recorded his falls and casualties for reference, which may have helped lead to his interest in records and the like for a future career. Later he worked with pipes and plumbing, inspiring his future endeavors in developing medical tools.

Jackson attended Western University of Pennsylvania, now known as the University of Pittsburgh. While in college, Jackson dabbled in art, specifically that of decorating glasses and china. This side work helped him support his family, pay for his medical school, and helped him cultivate his illustrating skills, which he later put to use when illustrating his techniques in bronchoscopy, helping further his goal of educating others in the field.


Jackson earned public recognition through his work as an otolaryngologist, more commonly known as an ear nose and throat specialist. This field was still relatively new in the late 1800s and the early 1900s, the time when Jackson was practicing. It was during this period that he started collecting swallowed objects he extracted from patients. Jackson created and tended to this collection in order to help educate doctors on the field and to let them know more about what to expect in the field. Jackson never charged a patient any money for extracting an object. All he asked was that he could keep the object for his records. In 1924, Jackson donated his collection of swallowed objects and records to the College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Safety pins are probably the most abundant type of object in the collection. It was likely such a commonly swallowed object because seamstresses would hold pins in their mouths, or parents would hold them in their mouths while changing a baby’s diaper, or babies removed them from their diapers. Jackson was said to be even good enough at this craft of removing objects to push a pin down into the stomach where there’s more room, close it, and then safely extract it without puncturing anything vital.

X-ray showing safety pin and button in a 10-day-old infant’s airway, 1934, Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

X-ray showing safety pin and button in a 10-day-old infant’s airway, 1934, Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Jackson’s accomplishments earned him the nickname the “father of laryngoscopy.” In addition to his swallowed objects collection, Jackson invented a special tool called a laryngoscope. Jackson’s laryngoscope included a light he used to see into a patient’s throat as well as a long pair of tweezers with clamps on the end to grab the object. Jackson also had a doll named Michelle made so he could practice the procedure on something human-like and teach others his methods for extracting objects swallowed by children.

Chevalier Jackson demonstrating Michelle the Choking Doll, Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Chevalier Jackson demonstrating Michelle the Choking Doll, Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Jackson is also credited with campaigning for proper labeling and classification of anything containing poison. In all of the procedures of removing swallowed objects he endured, Jackson noticed various burns and injuries due to children consuming lye and other poisonous substances. Jackson realized this was a common problem due to the lack of essential warnings on packages or any federal regulation of hazardous substances. Jackson held countless meetings, presentations, and lectures, and his efforts eventually led to the creation of the Federal Caustic Poison Act  in 1925.

Chevalier Jackson has many achievements to his name. Whether people realize it or not, his work is extremely vital to the safety of people of all ages and the advancement of this particular field in medicine. His work goes much further than just what you see in those drawers.

Thanks for the article, Xavier! If you’d like to see the Chevalier Jackson collection for yourself, it is on display (along with lots of other interesting items from the history of medicine) here at the Mütter Museum!

CPP Curiosities: Ted Williams and Cryogenics

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Greetings, medico-historico aficionados, and welcome to the latest installment of CPP Curiosities, our semi-regular foray into weird and interesting chapters in medical history. Past articles have addressed treating syphilis by infecting patients with malaria, a fake Persian mummy who may have been a real murder victim, and graverobbing on top of graverobbing.

The leaves are changing, people are gearing up for Halloween and the subsequent two-month mad dash to the holiday season (only 75 more shopping days until Christmas, everyone!). We are in the midst of an annual American tradition: Major League Baseball’s postseason. The road to the World Series is heating up, and even though our hometown Philadelphia Phillies have long since been eliminated from playoff contention (sometime around the July All-Star break if my memory serves) there are many ball fans of more successful teams who are excited. In the spirit of the postseason, I thought we’d dive into a topic that marries both baseball and weird medical history. With that in mind, read on to learn about possible life after death, the science (or lack thereof) of human preservation, and one of the greatest hitters in baseball history.


Some of you may have heard of cryogenics. Also known as cryonics, cryogenesis, or cryopreservation, it is the practice of having all or part of a person’s body stored at sub-zero temperatures. The ultimate goal, in theory, is they can eventually be thawed and revived. Its medical applications generally involve freezing a patient with an incurable disease or traumatic injury in the hopes that future medical/scientific advances can heal them or that technology advances enough to allow human consciousness to be transferred from the body to another vessel (i.e. preserved and stored electronically). Conceptually, the idea of placing a person in suspended animation, by freezing or otherwise, has a long history in fiction, from Shakespeare’s Romeo & Juliet to Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, to Philip K. Dick’s novel Ubik to Matt Groening’s Futurama. However, modern attempts to bring the concept off the page and screen date and into the real world back to the 1950s. While academic articles circulated in the 1940s and 1950s, the first work on the subject directed at a mass audience was Robert Ettinger’s 1964 book The Prospect of Immortality, a treatise on the scientific feasibility of human cryopreservation. His work led to public interest in the practice and several entrepreneurial enterprises. The first attempt to preserve a body via freezing occurred in April 1966, when Cryocare Corporation froze a recently-deceased elderly woman from California. The following year, on January 12, 1967, technicians froze deceased psychology professor James Bedford (cryonics enthusiasts celebrate January 12 as “Bedford Day”).

As described in a pro-cryonics journal, advocates for the scientific feasibility of cryonics cite four principles: (1) metabolic function is arrested in bodies preserved under sufficiently low temperatures, thus allowing them to be effectively preserved indefinitely; (2) the use of specialized chemicals can reduce or prevent the risk of damage to the body when frozen; (3) biological death, as opposed to legal death, is a process not an event; and (4) future scientific/technical methods could potentially allow cryogenically preserved people to be revived.

In the case of modern cryopreservation, after physicians establish time-of-death, representatives from a cryopreservation group or one of its subsidiaries preserve the body for transit to a cryonics facility. The body is placed in an ice water bath and attached to devices designed to maintain blood flow and respiration (to minimize deterioration) until the body reaches its destination. When it arrives, blood is replaced with a specialized solution designed to protect the body from damage while freezing. If only the patient’s head is being preserved (described in the business as neurocryopreservation or simply “neuro”), technicians remove it from the body. The body or head is then placed into a storage container called a “dewar” and frozen with liquid nitrogen, remaining in a frozen state until science catches up with science fiction (More on the procedure here).

Photo of a dewar, a cryogenic container for storing bodies under below-zero temperatures

A Dewar used in cryopreservation
Photo courtesy of Alcor Life Extension Foundation

It may not surprise you to know there are some key challenges to cryopreservation. For one thing, its efficacy is difficult to test. There’s currently no way to revive a cryopreserved patient and it’s difficult (and illegal) to subject human test subjects to a procedure that effectively has a 100% fatality rate. A patient cannot legally be preserved until after they’re dead. Alcor Life Extension Foundation, one of the more prominent cryonics services, concedes cryopreservation on a living subject is legally considered murder or suicide depending on who initiates it. This leaves cryotechnicians with the trouble of curing death in addition to whatever ailment brought about the patient’s end. As a result, cryonics leaves a lot of the work up to future scientists to help finish the job for them. Failure rates and deterioration of specimens are also issues. Modern cryonics facilities claim to make every effort to minimize the amount of deterioration due to extreme temperatures; however, there is a risk. According to a report from Alcor, with the exception of Bedford, every other cryonics patient preserved before 1974 eventually suffered some manner of failure. The general scientific consensus is, while it’s certainly possible to preserve a body under extremely low temperatures for a long period of time, the odds of revival are so low as to invalidate the endeavor. Advocates, meanwhile, retort that even an astronomically small chance of transcending death is better than no chance at all.

An image from the animated series Futurama. Shows a sign reading "Applied Cryogenics: No Power Failures Since 1997 [the seven in 1997 is taped over another number]"

Image Source: 20th Century Fox. Used under fair use.

Another challenge for cryonics enthusiasts: the process is extremely expensive. While companies like Alcor assure that much of the cost can be covered through life insurance, aspiring patients need to be prepared pay between $80,000 and $220,000 (depending on whether they opt for “neuro” or “whole body” plus additional fees) upon the event of their death. According to Alcor, the cost covers the initial procedure, general storage and maintenance as well as a trust patients can access after their reanimation. (A small price to pay for immortality?)

The Strange Case of Ted Williams

Often when one brings up the subject, as was my experience, people often mention Walt Disney. This refers to a persistent (and discredited) myth that the founder of the now-monolithic company responsible for most of our youthful amusement had himself cryogenically frozen following his death in 1966. However, perhaps the most famous person who was actually cryogenically frozen was legendary baseball player Ted Williams.

Theodore Samuel “Ted” Williams (1908-2002) was a longtime outfielder for the Boston Red Sox. During his nineteen-year career, 1939 to 1960 with a brief hiatus in the 1940s to serve in World War II, he was a two-time American League (AL) MVP (Most Valuable Player), a six-time AL batting champion (highest batting average in the league for the season), and an AL All-Star in every season he played. When he retired in 1960, he ranked in the top ten all time in career home runs, batting average, slugging percentage, and RBI (runs batted in). Williams still holds the record for the highest on-base percentage in major league history (full stats). He was a first-ballot Hall of Famer in 1966, and he ranks among one of the greatest baseball players of all time.

Photograph of Ted Williams from 1939

Ted Williams in 1939 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Ted Williams died of congestive heart failure on July 5, 2002. Following his death, representatives from Alcor shipped Williams’ body from Florida to their facilities in Scottsdale, AZ. There, technicians separated his head from his body, placing the head and torso in separate Dewars.

His passing and subsequent preservation triggered a bitter legal battle among Williams’ three children over the ultimate fate of his remains. His oldest daughter, Bobby-Joe Ferrell along with several other relatives and family friends, argued Ted Williams’ final wishes were to be cremated. However John Henry and Claudia Williams, his son and youngest daughter, respectively, argued Williams had had a change of heart before his death, opting instead for cryopreservation. John Henry developed an interest in cryonics in the late nineties and reached an agreement with Alcor to have his remains along with his father and sisters’ be preserved and stored at Alcor following their deaths. A legal battle ensued: John Henry asserted his power of attorney over his fathers’ affairs, while Bobby-Joe accused John Henry and Claudia of falsifying a consent form from their father. Eventually, Bobby-Joe allowed her brother and sister to keep Williams frozen on the condition that they not attempt to sell her father’s DNA (perhaps so he could be cloned and attempt to re-break his old hitting records). She also agreed to not publicly discuss Williams’ cryopreservation. In exchange, John-Henry and Claudia agreed to pay Bobby-Joe her share of her inheritance.

There was no shortage of press attention for the salacious details of Williams’ afterlife. It didn’t take long for accounts to circulate that Alcor was mishandling Williams remains. In July 2002, reports came out that his head had to be refrozen after cracks began to appear. In 2009, Larry Johnson, Alcor’s former chief operating officer, published a tell-all book about the company’s most famous tenant; among the more shocking accusations he levied against Alcor was that technicians reportedly hit Williams’s head multiple times with a wrench to jar it loose from a pedestal made out of a tuna can. (It hasn’t been the only scandal surrounding the company. In 1988 rumors circulated former Alcor executive Saul Kent poisoned his mother before cryopreserving her head). Moreover, a series of misfortunes brought his cryogenically-frozen future into jeopardy. An August 2003 article in Sports Illustrated reported John Henry still owed Alcor $110,000; according to Johnson, Alcor executives joked they would send Williams’s thawed body back to his son in a cardboard box.

It isn’t clear how matters were resolved between John Henry and Alcor; when John Henry died of leukemia in 2004, his remains were brought to Alcor for cryopreservation and his father remains there in frozen stasis to this day.

If this grisly story hasn’t satiated your need for accounts of preservation (or lack thereof) of notable figures, you can check out my previous article on the preservation of Vladimir Lenin’s body.

Until next time, catch you on the strange side!

Portrait of a Fellow: Nathan Francis Mossell

Greetings, internet aficionados of medical history. Today, we are happy to welcome another guest author to the MütterEDU blog. Mütter Museum docent Izza Choudhry is here to offer a profile of a notable Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia: Nathan Francis Mossell. Dr. Mossell was an accomplished physician and civil rights advocate whose portrait appears outside Ashhurst Hall on the second floor of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Izza is here to offer insights into his life.

The floor is yours, Izza!

College of Physicians staff pose in front of the portrait of Dr. Nathan Francis Mossell

Nathan Francis Mossell (1856-1946) was the first African American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He established the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School, which was the first African American hospital in Philadelphia. In addition to being the first African American member of the Philadelphia County Medical Society, Mossell was the co-founder of the Philadelphia Academy of Medicine and Allied Sciences, an organization for African Americans in medicine, and the National Medical Association.

Nathan Francis Mossell was born on July 27, 1856, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Both of Mossell’s parents, Eliza Bowers and Aaron Albert Mossell, were children of freed slaves. Growing up hearing stories of slavery truly impacted Mossell’s perception of life. In his autobiography, he stated that his mother’s stories of the unjust discrimination that their family faced motivated him to succeed, “Mother inspired us toward high aspirations by stories of how our grandparents overcame obstacles.”

One of the first memories Mossell describes in his autobiography is how many times his mother would tell the story of how her father was freed as as young man. His grandfather was deemed useless by his master because of how viciously he resisted his enslavement. Mossell’s grandfather told his master that he would not work for him because he did not believe slavery was justifiable. Mossell’s grandfather’s persistent resistance towards his master caused his master to give up any attempts of controlling him, and he simply freed him. After gaining his freedom, he settled down in Baltimore, Maryland.

Mossell’s paternal grandfather, initially transported to the United States from the West African Coast, bought his and his wife’s freedom from his master. They settled in Baltimore, where Mossell’s father was born.

When Mossell’s mother was a child, she and her family, along with many other free African Americans, were deported from Baltimore to Trinidad. After they returned to Baltimore, she met Mossell’s father. Mossell’s father worked as a brickmaker, which helped him earn enough money to buy a house. After the birth of their third child, the couple decided to move to Canada, since free African Americans were prohibited from receiving an education in Maryland, and they wanted to provide their children with better opportunities.

During the Civil War, Mossell and his family moved to Lockport, New York, where Mossell spent the remainder of his childhood. In Lockport, Mossell’s father maintained his brickmaking business. At the time, Mossell and his five siblings were the only African American children attending public schools in Lockport.

In the late 1860s, brickyard revenues began to decline, and the Mossells were only able to send their oldest son to college. Mossell had worked at the brickyard since he was nine years old and only attended school sporadically. At fourteen years old, after the death of his second-oldest brother, he started working at the brickyard full-time in order to help his father.

When Mossell was fifteen, his family was finally able to fund his education. In 1871, he enrolled in Lincoln University’s high school preparatory program, where he completed the four-year curriculum in only three years. In 1879, he graduated from Lincoln University with a Bachelor of Arts degree with second honors in his graduating class. He was also awarded the Bradley Medal in natural science.

Nathan Francis Mossell in 1882. Image Source: University of Pennsylvania Archives

Nathan Francis Mossell in 1882. Image Source: University of Pennsylvania Archives

After completing his undergraduate studies, Mossell enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, where became the the most prominent of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School’s first African American students, taking second honors in his graduating class.
During his medical career, Mossell noticed the continuing prevalence of racism and discrimination towards African Americans, especially the prejudice in most hospitals towards African American medical graduates. Due to this, Mossell completed an internship at St. Thomas and Queens College hospitals in London, England. He worked at St. Thomas Hospital for five years before returning to Philadelphia.

After his return to the United States, Mossell became the first African American physician elected to the Philadelphia County Medical Society. For over a decade, he practiced in predominantly white Philadelphia hospitals. In 1895 he established the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital, the second African American hospital in the United States, to both provide care for the African American community in Philadelphia and to provide young African American physicians and nurses with the opportunity to gain experience working in hospitals. There, he worked as the chief of staff and medical director, until his retirement in 1933. He continued to privately practice medicine until his death in 1946.

In addition to a physician, Mossell was a strong political activist, especially for civil rights. During the 1880s and 1890s, Mossell was one of the first to encourage the hiring of African American professors at Lincoln University. He also worked with state representative Arthur Faucett to pass a bill banning the exclusion of African Americans from university housing at the University of Pennsylvania. Mossell was a founding member of the Niagara Movement, an organization established by W.E.B. du Bois in 1905 to publicly oppose the policies of Booker T. Washington. In 1910, Mossell became a founding member of the Philadelphia’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Two years after Mossell’s death, Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital merged with Mercy Hospital, another African American hospital, to create Mercy Douglass Hospital. This facility continued to care for the African American community until its closure in 1973.

Thanks, Izza, for your insights into Dr. Mossell. If you are interested in learning more from our dedicated docents and volunteers, be sure to check out former docent Sarah Henry’s examination of eye color or a recent article from one of our Karabots Junior Fellows on NBA star Kyrie Irving’s knee injury. See you next time!



CPP Curiosities: Kyrie Irving’s Knee Injury

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Welcome to the third and final installment in a series of articles written by students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program. Previous articles by our students covered nineteenth century mental health and the 1918 influenza pandemic. Today, we’re shifting away from medical history to some current affairs.

On April 8, 2018, the Boston Celtics announced star point guard Kyrie Irving would miss the remainder of the 2018 NBA season following a surgery on his surgically repaired knee. The loss of Irving, the nature of his injury, and his subsequent recovery were highly-publicized topics in the world of sports punditry, and today we’re offering our own hot take. Allow me to introduce Al Ly. Al is a student in the Karabots Program, who is combining his interest in sports medicine with his love of basketball to share his thoughts on Irving’s injury.

Al, the floor is yours!

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving goes for a layup against a defender.

Kyrie Irving in 2015 Photo Credit: Erik Drost (Flickr Commons)

During the 2015 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving, point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, fractured his left knee. He underwent a surgical procedure where doctors implanted two screws to keep his kneecap in place. About 2 ½ years later, on March 24, 2018, Irving, traded to the Boston Celtics during free agency, had to undergo additional surgery. Doctors went to remove the tension wire in his left knee, but they noticed that there was an infection. The infection came from the screws he had implanted after the injury in 2015.

The knee is the largest joint in your body. It is made up of bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. The three bones that form the knee joint are the femur, tibia, and patella. Tendons connect the knee bones to the leg muscles that move the knee joint. Three main ligaments provide stability to the knee. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) prevents the femur from sliding backwards to the tibia. The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) prevents the femur from sliding forward to the tibia. The lateral collateral ligaments (LCL) prevents the femur from sliding side to side.

Anatomy of the knee, identifying the major parts of the knee

Anatomy of the Knee
Image Source: Bruce Blausen (Wikimedia Commons)

Your knee works like a door hinge. When you open and close a door hinge, it uses a threaded bolt secured by two nuts at the top and bottom of the hinge called acorn nuts. There is also a piece called a sleeve that protects the threaded bolt. Door plates are also part of the hinge with one connected to the door and the other to the wall. With a human knee, the threaded bolt is your knee and the sleeve is the muscle around the knee. The muscle around your knee is patella ligament and your quadriceps femoris tendon. The door plates are your bones that are around the knee, so every time you open or close a door, it’s like bending your knee. The knee is one of the easiest joints to receive an injury, especially for professional athletes who are running and jumping, and, in some sports, making full contact, on a regular basis.

When a person receives an injury like the one Irving suffered in 2015, doctors support the knee using tension wires and screws; Tension wires hold broken bones in position. When a person receives them, it can cause pain and stiffness and a sense the knee is not the same as it was before the injury. People with knee injuries go through physical therapy to regain movement and can take medication for the pain. Keeping the leg elevated will also reduce pain. In the case of Kyrie Irving, doctors discovered the wires in the Irving’s knee were causing him pain. This can happen if the wires are being knocked around, and he had been knocking them around on the court for 2 ½ years while diving for loose balls, colliding with other players, and falling to the ground.

Doctors successfully removed the two screws that had infected Irving’s knee. His season was over; however, his doctors cleared him to be healthy by training camp next season. It could have been much worse due to the infection. Osteomyelitis is an inflammation of the bone or bone marrow due to an infection caused by bacteria, mycobacteria, or fungi. It affects roughly one out of every 5,000 people. There are multiple ways to treat osteomyelitis, including antibiotics and a procedure where doctors remove unhealthy tissue. During treatment, doctors perform blood tests to monitor for signs of infection and to ensure that the treatment is effective, with follow-up visits roughly every two weeks. It usually takes 6 weeks to recover.

The areas of dead bone are hard to treat because it’s difficult for the body’s white blood cells to fight off the infection. Without adequate blood supply, some parts of the bone may die. According to Dr. Derek Ochiai, orthopedic surgeon at Nirschl Orthopedic Center in Arlington, VA, “We don’t know everything obviously, but when you have an infection with hardware, that has the potential to cede the bone. So the infection goes to the bone, which is called osteomyelitis. That can be really difficult to treat.” Left untreated, the infection could have led to swelling, fever, and life-threatening sepsis, a condition where harmful bacteria or toxins infect the bloodstream. It can also lead to fractures in the infected bone, stunted growth (in children), and gangrene. Gangrene is a condition that occurs when body tissue dies. It’s caused by loss of blood supply due to an underlying illness, injury, or infection. The most commonly affected areas are fingers, toes, and limbs. Gangrene can also occur inside your body and it damages your muscles and organs.

Depictions of gangrene's progress from an 1835 book Source: Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Depictions of gangrene’s progress from an 1835 book Source: Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Irving’s surgery attracted a lot of attention from basketball fans and the sports press. In his first public comments following the announcement of Irving’s surgery Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of Irving, “He’s really disappointed…Obviously, after the initial surgery, the thought was he’d be back in three to six weeks. We thought it would be closer to three than six, the way he was initially progressing. Just one of those things out of his control. But he’s bummed as you can imagine.” The Celtics thought he’d would be back in about a month, but they realized he had a bone infection in his left knee so it took longer than expected. Celtics fans were devastated to hear he would miss the rest of the 2017-2018 season, although the Celtics did manage to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers (Irving’s former team).

Thanks, Al. Great job! If you are interested in learning more about medical history from our students, check out the links at the top of the article. Click here to learn more about the different youth programs the College of Physicians of Philadelphia has to offer.

As always, catch you on the strange side!


Maloney, Jack. “Kyrie Irving’s knee injury and second story, explained by an orthopedic surgeon.” CBS Sports (April 10, 2018).

Weiss, Jared. “Brad Stevens explains Kyrie Irving bacterial infection knee surgery.” CelticsWire (April 6, 2018).

“What is Osteomyelitis?” Summit Medical Group.  

Zillgitt, Jeff. “Celtics star Kyrie Irving will have another knee surgery and miss the rest of the season.” USA Today (April 5, 2018).


CPP Curiosities: Influenza Virus

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Greetings and salutations, fellow historico-medico afficionados, and welcome to another installment of CPP Curiosities, our semi-regular segment on the unusual and interesting aspects of medical history. Today’s issue is the second in a three-part series of guest articles written by students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program. The KJF Program is a three-year after-school and summer internship for Philadelphia high school students from underserved communities who have an interest in careers in healthcare and medicine. These two wrote these articles as part of a two-week summer internship wherein they worked closely with staff in the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and conducted original research on a topic of their choice. This time around, Karabots Junior Fellow Cliford Louis is here to inform you about influenza.

The floor is yours, Clif!

Figure 1. “Preparing to Bury City’s Influenza Victims,” Scrapbook of newspaper clippings concerning the influenza epidemic in Philadelphia, 1918-1919.  Call no. Z10d 7.  Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

On March 11, 1918 at Fort Riley, Kansas,  a soldier reported a fever before breakfast and was later followed by other soldiers with the same complaints. By the end of that week, 500 soldiers were ill and being hospitalized. They were early victims of the infamous Spanish flu. An estimated  675,000 Americans died of influenza during the epidemic, more than all of the wars this century combined, and the disease killed millions worldwide during World War I. At first, scientists considered it a bacterial infection. Nowadays, scientists can confidently describe flu as a virus and explain what it does to the human body once they contain the strain of this virus. 

What is the flu …?

“The influenza virus is a member of the family [Orthomyxoviridae]” (Dehner 23), meaning that the flu is a group of RNA virus. There are three types of influenza: A, B, and C.

  • Type C is considered unimportant because it rarely causes infection.

  • Type B is mildly infectious, but it can cause epidemics.

  • Type A causes the greater threat to humanity; it attacks the respiratory system, and it is highly contagious. 

Figure 2”influenza virus,” Kathmandu Tribune, 12 October 2017. https://kathmandutribune.com/17-people-die-influenza-virus/

The influenza virus is a single stranded RNA virus and normally attacks the epithelial cell. Once the virus reaches the cell, it seizes it to develop new copies of the virus.

“Ultimately the influenza virus destroys any infected cell by destroying the outer layer. The daughter cells that infect adjoining epithelial cells quickly produce many millions of copies of the virus” (Dehner 24). 

This describes the effect of the virus inside of an infected person, and it shows why this epidemic was so deadly. Moreover, the explosive spread and large impact of the virus proves its immense dominance during the time of war. An infected person can transmit the virus to another person through the air by a cough or sneeze.


Figure 2 “Red Cross Ambulance Demonstration – Washington DC,” 1918 Historical Image Gallery from the Center For Disease Control And Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918

Animals such as pigs, waterfowl, seals, horses and whales are considered sources containing the virus; they can catch and transmit the influenza virus to humans.

“Strategies of containment and eradication are impractical because the virus has unquantifiable opportunities for jumping from its natural host to other species, including humans” (Dehner 27).

“To be effective, any response to a pandemic strain must be quick enough to stay ahead of the rapidly transmissible influenza virus, consideration even more important in today’s increasingly interconnected world” (Dehner 196).

Figure 4. Image from “Is the flu shot safe during pregnancy,” The Bump. https://www.thebump.com/a/flu-shot-when-pregnanti


Even with current medicine and increasingly powerful technologies, the virus cannot be eliminated in the world; therefore, the CDC recommends yearly flu vaccines for everyone from six months old and older. Flu season is an important time in the world; the recommendation from doctors, nurses and other medical stuff to receive the flu shot is very vital in society. These vaccines creates antibodies, which helps to prevent viruses including the influenza. ‘Influenza pandemics are relatively rare events.’

 Previous history of influenza epidemics around the world over the past century can really help scientists finding a unique vital antidote to eradicate the flu. A lot has been learned about the influenza virus, but there is still plenty to be known and discovered to reach the stage of elimination for the virus.


Dehner, George. Influenza A Century of Science and Public Health Response. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh  Press, 2012.

Thanks, Clif! Be sure to check back for our final guest article. Until next time, catch you on the strange side!