Ethics in science?
Ethics in science?

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

1.1 Scurvy: The first clinical trial

Scurvy, a common condition amongst sailors in the 18th century, is rarely seen nowadays, as a result of greater understanding of the causes of this often deadly condition.

Historically, from Greek and Roman times it had been noted that sailors out at sea for periods of more than three months often showed a range of symptoms, including:

  • feeling very tired and weak all the time (fatigue)
  • a general sense of feeling ‘out of sorts’
  • pain in the limbs, particularly the legs
  • the appearance of small red-blue spots on their skin.

The condition was reported to cause ‘funguous [sic] flesh... putrid gums and... dreadful terrors’ (according to Lind’s Treatise on Scurvy, 1753), all now known to be symptoms of scurvy.

Described image
Figure 1  Historical symptoms of scurvy – ‘funguous [sic] flesh and putrid gums’ – courtesy of the Institute of Naval Medicine Historic Collections.

Watch Video 1 (What the Industrial Revolution did for us, 2003) to discover more about scurvy.

Download this video clip.Video player: Video 1
Copy this transcript to the clipboard
Print this transcript
Show transcript|Hide transcript
Video 1  What the Industrial Revolution did for us. Presenter Dan Cruickshank tells the story of the first clinical trial, proving that oranges and lemons could save the lives of sailors by preventing scurvy.  (2:48 min)
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).
  • What are the symptoms of scurvy?

  • Scurvy was a debilitating disease of sailors that resulted in loose teeth, haemorrhaging gums, bruises on the skin and eventually heart failure and death.

  • In Lind’s experiment on the treatment of scurvy six pairs of men were each given one of the treatments. Why do you think there were two men for each treatment?

  • If something happened to one of the men (such as sudden death), the other would still be observable in the experiment. And if both survived, Lind was ensuring that he had one replicate result for each test.

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371