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The Classic: The Treatment of Malignant Tumors by Repeated Inoculations of ErysipelasWith a Report of Ten Original Cases


Section Editor(s): ROBERTSON, WILLIAM W. JR. M.D.

Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research: January 1991 - Volume 262 - Issue - p 3–11

William Bradley Coley (Fig. I) stemmed from old New England stock. After graduating from Yale in 1884. Coley spent two years in Portland, Oregon, teaching Latin and Greek before entering Harvard Medical School. After completing a competitive examination, he became an intern at the New York Hospital in the service of Drs. Weir and Bull. It was one of Dr. Bull's patients who stimulated Coley's interest in the treatment of sarcomas and advanced cancers. The patient had a recurrent sarcoma of the cervical region that disappeared after an erysipelas infection in the region of the wound. Coley began inoculating patients with inoperable tumors in an attempt to produce erysipelas. With Dr. Bull's support, Coley was able to pursue this work at the New York Cancer Hospital (now the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center). One of Coley's patients donated $100.000 to establish the C. P. Huntington Fund for Cancer Research, the first cancer research fund in the United States. Coley remained associated with this hospital for more than 40 years. As a result of his experiments, Coley developed a preparation consisting of killed cultures of Strepttr cocci and Bacillii.7 prodigiosir.7. This became known as Coley's toxins and was widely used in treating patients with sarcomas, occasionally with success. His son, Bradley L. Coley, continued work on the treatment of bone tumors. In addition to his interest in the treatment of tumors, Coley was well known for his work on the treatment of inguinal hernia and was the first surgeon in the United States to adopt the Bassini method of repair. He was on the staff of the Hospital for the Ruptured and the Crippled for many years and served as chief surgeon for the last seven years before retiring in 1932. William Bradley Coley was a pioneer in the immunologic approach to the treatment of malignant disease. His career can be summed up in the citation read at the time he received the degree of Honorary Master of Arts from Harvard University in 1911: “William Bradley Coley, surgeon, medical discoverer, and director of medical research; who learned to cure by surgery ills that foiled its art. and without surgery, others beyond its reach.”

Abridged from Cob', W.B.: The treatment of malignant tumors by repeated inoculations of erysipelas: With a report often original cases. Am. J. Med. Sci. 105:487, 1893.

© Lippincott-Raven Publishers.