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Retrospect

At last, in print

After decades of attempts, the first volumes of the complete work of Adolpho Lutz are launched

Sixty-four years of plans and frustrated attempts finished at the end of last year, in great style. The main works, studies, articles and letters of Adolpho Lutz (1855-1940), one of the most talented and productive Brazilian scientists, began to be published unabridged in a work without a peer in Brazil. In November, a box with four volumes was launched – First works: Germany, Switzerland and Brazil (1878-1885); Hanseniasis, Dermatology and mycology; and a supplement with a glossary, indices and summaries. By the end of this year, four more boxes are planned, thus making up the Complete Work of Adolpho Lutz (Editora Fiocruz, R$ 150.00 the first box). Each one will have from three to five books, with summaries in Portuguese and English of the works brought together, and full indices specific for the three main languages in which they are presented (German, Portuguese and English) and a bilingual glossary of technical terms and names mentioned by Lutz.

The books bring the production of this scientist from Rio de Janeiro relating to one or more themes, with supporting texts from specialists from the areas in question, which comment on the relevance of the works for modern science (many of them are more than one hundred years old). The estimate is that the five boxes will have around 10,000 printed pages in a project that involves at least 50 people, coordinated since 2000 by historian Jaime Benchimol and by biologist and science historian Magali Romero de Sá, both from the Oswaldo Cruz House of the Oswaldo Cruz Foundation (COC/Fiocruz). The participants in this work could be multiplied if the wishes of  Bertha Lutz, a daughter of  the scientist, had begun to be put into practice after October 1940, when Lutz died. In January 1941, she had already manifested the clear intention of not leaving the knowledge spawned by her father scattered about or in the bottom of a drawer.

Internationally known as a feminist leader and zoologist – from the National Museum -,  from 1941 to 1965 Bertha was tireless in the task of collecting and organizing the available material in the possession of the familY,  friends and scientists who were related to her father. She also strove to create and maintain links with institutions, politicians and intellectuals who could help to exhibit and to publish all the production of Lutz. During this period, she had some small successes and some great flops, without achieving the publication of the biography nor the reprinting of the most significant studies. The researcher still struggled for some time, but she seems to have tired in 1965, when she was 71 years old.

“Her archives stop there and do not contain any more records to indicate whether she made further sorties into this terrain”,  says Magali Romero de Sá. Bertha died in 1976, but took care to leave the whole collection brought together by her in the National Museum. Finally, in 2000, the researchers from the COC managed to muster funds from several sources to finance the publication of the work and other projects.  The Adolpho Lutz Virtual Library is being developed in a joint work with Bireme (the Latin American and Caribbean Center on Health Sciences Information). “Besides finishing the publication of the complete work, our plans include making a documentary, running an exhibition, a seminar, and whatever is necessary for popularizing the work of this extraordinary scientist”,  says Benchimol.

The fascination exerted by Lutz on other researchers and historians is explained, in good measure, by his versatility as a scientist. “One of the characteristic traits of  his personality is the combination of the medical culture with the vocation of a naturalist and the pioneering role that he performed in applying the learning from these areas to tropical medicine”, Benchimol explains. What could have been the ways that led him to this level as a scientist? Adolpho Lutz was born in Rio in 1855, the son of Swiss parents. His father, Gustav, married Mathilde Oberteuffer in 1849 and immigrated to Brazil soon after their honeymoon trip.

In Rio, in a partnership with another Swiss, Gustav founded a store for importing “dry goods” and the export of farm products, but in 1857  he left the business in the hands of his partner and went back with the family to Berne,  perhaps motivated by the insalubrity of the imperial capital – besides yellow fever, cholera burst out in the city in 1855, the year in which Adolpho, one of the couple’s ten children, was born. In 1864, the family went back to Brazil, but left in Basle the three elder children, including Adolpho, to complete their schooling. In the meantime, Mathilde, just as enterprising as Gustav, created the Swiss-Brazilian College in Rio.

In the meantime,  Adolpho immersed himself  in his studies, interested in natural history.  In a letter sent to his mother in February 1871, when he was 15 years old, he set out his plans: “What I have always wanted as a child and, without due reflection, still want now, is to be a researcher in natural sciences. (…) I go on accumulating all the knowledge of natural history that I manage to acquire,  I make my own observations, I listen to public lectures and, during the vacations, I study all the biology books within reach.” At the age of 19, in 1874,  he entered the University of  Berne to study medicine. Three years afterwards, he moved to the University of Leipzig and did short courses in Prague and Strasbourg in several medical specialties.

Even so, he continued to work on natural history. In March 1878, his first work in the area was presented, about the description of a new species of micro crustacean (Alona verrucosa) at the Natural Sciences Society in Berne. One year afterwards, he worked in a Swiss hospital, where he wrote his thesis on the therapeutic effects of a plant, the quebracho, and published a clinical study about a case of acute fibrinous bronchitis, nowadays known as pseudomembranous bronchitis. At the age of 25, graduated, Lutz decided to reencounter the family in Brazil.

Before, he took a trip around Europe – he took short courses in Vienna, went to lectures and surgeries in London, and, according to some biographers, met Louis Pasteur in Paris. In 1881, the young Adolpho arrived in Rio. In his reports, he says that found odd the “protectionism and nepotism”  permeating the Brazilian people and the tremendous penetration of the French language and culture in the local elite. After a short stay in Petrópolis, he settled in Limeira, in the interior of São Paulo, where his recently married sister Helena had moved to, and he remained there from 1882 to 1885. In the intervals in his work as a general practitioner, he would research and write.

In 1885, he published a decisive study on ancylostomiasis in a series of articles that came out in a collection of lessons in clinical medicine by Volkman, published in Leipzig. “This research represented such an important contribution that it was published, unabridged, in Portuguese in O Brazil-Medico [Brazil-Doctor](1888, 1887) and in the Gazeta Médica da Bahia [Medical Gazette of Bahia]”, says Benchimol. In March 1885, he went to work for one year in the clinic of the renowned German dermatologist Paul Gerson Unna, in Hamburg, Germany, and branched off into bacteriology, related to several dermatological diseases,  in particular, leprosy. When he came back to Brazil, the scientist moved to São Paulo, but, next, was appointed by Unna to a leprosarium on the island of Molokai, in Hawaii, where he arrived in November 1889.

It was in those Polynesian islands that he got to know the English nurse Amy Marie Gertrude Fowler, with whom he came to be married shortly afterwards. They stayed there until mid-1892, and after a trip through the United States, returned to Brazil in January of the following year. In São Paulo, where they set up their home, the two children of the couple were born: Bertha, in 1894, and Gualter Adolpho, in 1903, a future professor in forensic medicine. Also in 1893, in March, Lutz was appointed subdirector of the São Paulo Bacteriological Institute, and, in October, interim director – he was confirmed as director only in 1895. Lutz occupied the position for 15 years.

With his assistants, he carried out important investigations into endemic and epidemic infectious diseases in the state, and faced controversies with a preponderant portion of the medical field and of other sectors of society. Bacteriology was acquiring importance in public health, with the frequent outbreaks of cholera, typhoid fever, dysenteries, yellow fever and other diseases. The diagnostics of Lutz and of other younger professionals who were beginning to stand out as bacteriologists in Rio were grounded on laboratory tests that were inaccessible to the majority of doctors.

Lutz was the technically most qualified professional amongst Brazilian bacteriologists, with most experience, works published, and relations with the international scientific community. In 1908, he transferred himself to the Oswaldo Cruz Institute (IOC), in Rio, at the invitation of Cruz himself. Both had now combated a cholera epidemic in the Paraíba Valley, year before. Lutz had great authority and prestige as a scientist and exerted a great – intimidatory -, even influence over those who shared his company. “It is not by chance that the stories about Dr. Lutz continue to be told up until today in the corridors of Fiocruz. He continues to fascinate”, wrote in the first book of the Complete Work Luiz Fernando Rocha Ferreira da Silva, the chair professor of Fiocruz’s National Public Health School. “But he wasn’t a helmsman of the stature of  Oswaldo Cruz, he didn’t have the same qualities of a boss, an aggregator and trainer of disciples, and he seems to abominate the publicity inherent to the condition of a public man”, Benchimol analyzes.  When he headed the Bacteriological Institute, renamed Adolfo Lutz after his death, he always left to Emílio Ribas the duties and the laurels of the great public actions.

His move to the IOC seems to be related to the possibility of resuming research into zoology and botany, which had remained in the background during the time he was immersed in bacteriology and in the front line of public health. During the final period of his life, his production was related to themes of a medical interest or of a purely biological importance, aloof from the conflicts of the institution. “The density of  his scientific career allowed Lutz to arrive closer than anyone to that mirage of the ivory tower where so many scientists dream of living as recluses”, Benchimol concludes.

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