For those who were unable to attend the October 12 lecture by J. Bruce Beckwith, M.D., "Impressions of Monstrosity: Perceptions of Malformation through the Ages," the link to the streaming video of the talk is now available from the Lectures page of our web site.
Dr. Beckwith showed numerous illustrations of malformations from early works in his impressive personal library, presented some examples of depictions of malformation in the art of early cultures, and touched on the social and cultural perceptions of malformation. Importantly, Beckwith also highlighted the critical importance of older print works to his research on malformation and to medical research in general. He noted that for events that are uncommon (such as certain birth defects) and for diseases or conditions that have largely disappeared from the modern world (polio, smallpox, very late-stage syphilis), older medical literature is the only repository of knowledge on etiology, prevalence, treatment--and even the course of disease in the absence of treatment. As certain diseases make a comeback, as the prevalence of certain malformations in nature seem to rise, only the older literature can provide guidance on the true natural history of the condition.
A nice example of this appeared on the front page of today's Oregonian, in fact. The local paper ran the wire story about the new study showing that MRSA (methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) is more virulent and more prevalent than the AIDS virus. The co-author of the report, OHSU's own Dr. John Townes, visited the History of Medicine Room to go through the MRSA information in the OHSU Hospital Infection Control Records (Accession No. 2006-003). As the bug evolves, knowing its past history can greatly inform current efforts at control. Thanks to the conscientious research of historically-minded physicians such as Dr. Townes and Dr. Beckwith, medical knowledge continues to move forward through this uncertain age.