Anton Breinl (1880-1944)
The Centenary of Australian tropical medicine is as good a time as any to recognize the contribution Anton Breinl made as one of the pioneer crazy bug hunters in our region. Influenced by some of the early giants of medical microbiology, Ehrlich, Virchov and Ross, he took a position running the Runcorn Laboratory at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine. He left this position after establishing an international reputation, to set up the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine in the grounds of the Townsville Hospital. The year was 1910.
From his previous base in Liverpool, UK, he had led expeditions to Brazil and survived yellow fever. He had also survived an accidental infection with trypanosomes, using an experimental medication to treat himself and thus securing a place among that small group of CBHs who have used themselves as laboratory animals. A condition of his appointment was that there should be no recurrence of his trypanosome infection.
Though he made a start on bug hunting in northern Australia and nearby Papua, the intervention of war introduced a major obstacle – there was a severe shortage of clinicians. Breinl had to increase his clinical workload, eventually becoming superintendent of the Townsville Hospital. There he had to endure repeated verbal attacks prompted by wartime anti-German sentiment. He stuck to his post but finally resigned in 1920. When he died in 1944, it was noted that he had been removed from research when he was at the height of his powers.
Breinl’s contribution is recognised in the Anton Breinl Centre at James Cook University, Townsville.
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