century

How scientists revived an old-school treatment for a 21st century pandemic

Dr. Arturo Casadevall, a microbiologist and physician at Johns Hopkins University, has spearheaded a nationwide initiative to test the healing powers of "convalescent plasma" from COVID-19 survivors. <span class="copyright">(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)</span>
Dr. Arturo Casadevall, a microbiologist and physician at Johns Hopkins University, has spearheaded a nationwide initiative to test the healing powers of “convalescent plasma” from COVID-19 survivors. (Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

A few weeks after the new coronavirus arrived on U.S. shores, Dr. Arturo Casadevall hatched a plan to beat back the outbreak with a medical advance so powerful it had earned a Nobel Prize.

In 1901.

That’s when Dr. Emil Adolf von Behring was honored for pioneering the use of so-called convalescent serum as a treatment for diphtheria. In 1892, the Prussian bacteriologist infected horses with the pathogen that causes the deadly disease. If the beasts recovered, Von Behring harvested their blood, removed its red blood cells and clotting proteins, and introduced the resulting antibody-rich fluid into the bloodstreams of human diphtheria patients.

Until a diphtheria vaccine came into broad use in the 1930s, Von Behring’s daring

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Expert on world’s 14th century pandemic attracts a cult following

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, professor Dorsey Armstrong (at Stonehenge in England) has gained acclaim for her expertise as the lecturer on a video series called "The Black Death: The World's Most Devastating Plague." <span class="copyright">(Ryan Schneider/Special to The Times)</span>
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, professor Dorsey Armstrong (at Stonehenge in England) has gained acclaim for her expertise as the lecturer on a video series called “The Black Death: The World’s Most Devastating Plague.” (Ryan Schneider/Special to The Times)

Before COVID-19, Purdue University English professor Dorsey Armstrong was well known in a way that only other enthusiasts of medieval literature and culture might appreciate.

That is to say, she once got a discount on a replica of an Anglo-Saxon drinking horn — made from an actual cattle horn — because a guy at a conference recognized her.

“That’s the only time I felt famous,” said Armstrong, an expert in medieval studies who heads the English department at Purdue in Indiana. “I got a really cool drinking horn. And whenever I teach ‘Beowulf,’ I bring it out and I pass it around.”

But since the start of the pandemic,

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