Shedding light on ‘bizarre’ 1930s procedure in which doctors injected malaria into human brains

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Credit: Waldemar Kaempffert

new paper in a neurosurgery journal sheds light on one of the most bizarre and shocking medical procedures ever invented. The disturbing paper comes from Patric Blomstedt of Sweden’s Umeå University.

Blomstedt tells the story of a technique called “cerebral impaludation,” which literally means “putting malaria into the brain.” In this operation, which was performed on over 1,000 people in the 1930s, blood from a malaria-infected person was injected straight into the frontal lobes of the unfortunate patient.

Why would anyone even dream of such a procedure? The story goes back to 1918, when an Austrian doctor, Julius Wagner-Jauregg, discovered that a bout of malaria could produce improvement in patients with advanced syphilis infection of the brain.

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[Psychiatrist Maurice] Ducosté claimed that his procedure was highly effective in cases of syphilis. In fact, he reported, it could leave people healthier and more intelligent.

So what became of cerebral impaludation? Ducosté’s work on the procedure seems to have ended in 1940. A handful of other psychiatrists in France and abroad experimented with the procedure, but it never became popular.

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We can only be thankful that we today live in an age in which no one would even consider injecting such dangerous substances into any part of the human body.

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