George and Gladys Dick Biography
- physicians, physician
This husband-and-wife team made major contributions to our knowledge of scarlet fever and later found themselves at the center of an international controversy over alleged commercialization of medical advances.
Born in Fort Wayne, Indiana, where his father was a railroad engineer, GeorgeDick studied at Rush Medical College in Chicago. Graduating in 1905, he spent two years treating iron mine workers in Buhl, Montana, after which he studied pathology in Vienna and Munich. In 1909 he joined the faculty at the University of Chicago, also practicing medicine at several Chicago hospitals.
Dick met Gladys Henry in 1911, when both were working as University of Chicago research pathologists. Henry had been born in Pawnee City, Nebraska. Her father was a seller of grain, and a former Civil War cavalry soldier who raisedcarriage horses. After studying science at the University of Nebraska, Henrywent to Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, where shegraduated in 1907 and undertook postgraduate studies (experimental surgery, hematology, and pathochemistry) in Baltimore and Berlin.
The two married in 1914 and became research collaborators at the John R. McCormick Institute for Infectious Diseases, an arrangement that lasted until 1953, when Gladys was forced to retire by debilitating cerebral arteriosclerosis.
The Dicks published a landmark series of articles about scarlet fever in 1923and 1924 in the Journal of the American Medical Association. They determined that the disease was caused by hemolytic streptococci bacteria, whichhad previously been thought to play only a minor role in scarlet fever. Theyalso discovered that the red rash associated with scarlet fever is caused bya toxin released by the streptococcus bacterium. The Dicks used this toxin to immunize patients and to develop what is now known as the "Dick test," a skin test that determines susceptibility to scarlet fever.
The Dicks found themselves at the center of an international controversy overcommercialization of medical research after they patented some of their scarlet fever methods, and sued a pharmaceutical company for patent infringement.They said the purpose of their patents was not to enrich themselves, but solely to ensure quality of scarlet fever toxins and antitoxins. In 1935, the Dicks were criticized by the League of Nations, which said that their patents were restricting medical research. By the 1940s, antibiotics had largely replaced toxins and antitoxins for scarlet fever, and the Dicks decided to abandontheir patent-infringement lawsuit. Over the years, scarlet fever has becomeless common and less severe due to a decrease in streptococcal infections, tobetter environmental conditions, and to prompt and adequate antibiotic treatment.