The discovery of the leprosy bacteria 150 years

In 1873, Bergen physician Gerhard Armauer Hansen identified the leprosy bacterium. This discovery represented an international breakthrough, not only for leprosy research but for medicine in general. This exhibition explains the discovery of the bacterium, the scientific advancements that made it possible, and what the new-found knowledge led to. 

A ground-breaking discovery
On a February evening in 1873, at Lungegård Hospital at Kalfaret in Bergen, the young doctor Gerhard Armauer Hansen was sitting at the microscope in his study. Under the lens were tissue samples from a patient. That evening, he saw something that no one had ever seen before: ‘rod-shaped bodies’ that were moving. What he had observed was Mycobacterium leprae, the infectious agent that substantiated the theory that leprosy was an infectious disease, and not hereditary as previously believed.

Famous throughout the world but forgotten in Bergen?
Hansen gained international recognition through his discovery of the leprosy bacterium and efforts to find measures to limit the spread of the disease. He received widespread acclaim during his lifetime and  remains one of the most famous Norwegians of all time. In many languages, leprosy is also known as Hansen’s disease. In Hansen’s hometown of Bergen, a street and a hospital building are named after him, but surprisingly few locals know who he is.

Neither praise nor judge
Hansen undoubtedly made Norway’s most important contribution to medical research, but how could this happen in Bergen and was the breakthrough only positive? The exhibition will present a number of the conditions and challenges surrounding Hansen’s work, addressing themes such as fear of infection, isolation,– and ethical dilemmas. Hansen cannot be unilaterally praised for his achievements or condemned for his choices. Can his work still foster insight and reflection, 150 years on?

Experience the exhibition digitally in 3D:

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