Howard T. Ricketts

The laboratory is named after Dr. Howard T. Ricketts, an American pathologist who discovered the class of disease-carrying microorganisms now known as Rickettsia. These microorganisms have characteristics of both viruses and bacteria, and are responsible for lethal human diseases such as typhus and Rocky Mountain spotted fever. Though he died young, he made an important contribution to the study of vaccines and immunity.

Ricketts studied microbiology in Berlin and at the Pasteur Institute. In 1902 he accepted a position as associate professor of pathology at the University of Chicago. While Ricketts was on vacation in Montana in 1906, he began hearing of Rocky Mountain spotted fever, a deadly disease restricted to a small area of the West. He eventually located the microorganism in the blood and eggs of a species of tick.

In 1910 Ricketts traveled to Mexico to investigate an outbreak of typhus. Ricketts found that typhus was similar to Rocky Mountain spotted fever, and was in fact caused by bacterial parasites transmitted by body lice. However, in his close work with typhus patients, Ricketts himself became infected and died.

Before his death he proved that monkeys could be infected with typhus, and that they had immunity to the disease after they recovered. His early work became the basis for many subsequent advances in vaccine and immunity research.