David Bruce Biography (1855-1931)
Bruce is noted for his work in parasitology, especially for his discovery ofthe cause of brucellosis and sleeping sickness. Born in Melbourne, Australia,to Scottish immigrants, Bruce and his parents returned to Scotland when he was five years old. Although Bruce longed to become a professional athlete, hewas stricken with pneumonia at age 17. Bruce studied natural history and medicine at the University of Edinburgh, and after graduation, he found a job working with a doctor. He later met Mary Elizabeth Steele, whom he married in 1883. The couple subsequently began a lifelong partnership in medical science.
After joining the Army Medical Service, David and Mary Bruce were assigned toMalta in 1884, where Bruce began a study of an often-fatal disease sufferedby English soldiers assigned to the Maltese garrison. The disease, known as Malta, Mediterranean, or undulating fever, caused chills,sweats, and weakness. Using a microscope, Bruce described the cause as a "micrococcus" growing in the spleens of patients. Eventually, the organism was isolated by Danish scientist Bernhard L. F. Bang (1848-1932).
In 1905, a scientific team headed by Bruce found that the soldiers were contracting the disease by drinking the milk of infected goats. Goats' milk was thus eliminated from the soldiers' diets, and the disease vanished. Soon, physicians were calling the disease brucellosis in honor of Bruce. However,the fight against the disease was not yet over. Almost twenty years passed before physician Alice Catherine Evans discovered that brucellosis was often transmitted by the milk of cows as well as goats, leading to a drive to pasteurize all milk products and ultimately a decline in the disease's occurrence in humans.
After leaving Malta in 1889, Bruce was stationed in Africa. He conducted research in Zululand and Uganda on nagana, a common disease affecting domestic animals. He found that the infected tsetse flies could transmit the disease to humans. In 1903, after directing a hospital during the Boer War, Brucewas named director of the Royal Society's Sleeping Sickness Commission. WithAldo Castellani (1877-1971), Bruce and his colleagues isolated and describedthe microorganism that caused the disease, a worm-like parasite called a trypanosome. Bruce was then able to prove that the tsetse fly was the transmitter.
Bruce was knighted in 1908. By 1914, the Bruces had returned to England, where David served as commandant of the Royal Army Medical College. He directed scientific research during World War I and worked on tetanus antitoxins. He died in 1931, just four days after his wife's death. Before dying, David Bruceasked that any account of his work should acknowledge his wife's assistance and support.