July 14, 2010
History of Wuchereria Bancrofti - Discovery of the Adult Worm Pt. 1

Author: David Grove

After Cobbold received a specimen of blood from Joseph Bancroft in Australia, he wrote to Bancroft suggesting that he look for the adult worms which Cobbold felt must be present in the human body. Cobbold was strengthened in this belief when he saw an empty egg shell which he interpreted as being the remnant of the egg from which the filarial larva had come (it is impossible in retrospect to say what in fact this was). Bancroft took up Cobbold’s suggestion and on 21 December 1876 found an adult worm. Subsequently, he found four more specimens and wrote to Cobbold on 20 April 1877 of his discovery:

I have laboured very hard to find the parental form of the parasite, and am glad to tell you that I have now obtained five specimens of the worm. The worm is about the thickness of a human hair, and is from three to four inches long. By two loops from the centre of its body it emits the filariae described by Carter in immense numbers. My first specimen I got on December 21st 1876 in a lymphatic abscess of the arm. Four others I obtained alive from a hydrocele. (2)

Cobbold sent Bancroft’s letter together with some explanatory notes to The Lancet wherein it was published on 14 July 1877. In his letter, Cobbold named the worm Filaria Bancrofti in honour of Bancroft: “Such Sir, is Dr Bancroft’s account of his ‘finds’, and from the brief description furnished I propose to call the adult nematode Filaria Bancrofti.” (5) Bancroft later described the circumstances surrounding his discovery in somewhat more detail:

I opened an abscess in the arm of a youth employed as a butcher…

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