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Virchow, Rudolf (Ludwig Carl)

berlin theory disease pathology

[ feer khoh] (1821–1902) German pathologist and anthropologist: founder of cellular pathology.

Virchow graduated in medicine at Berlin, and then secured a junior post in Berlin’s great hospital, the Charité. He was a skilful pathologist who recognized leukaemia in 1845 and went on to study thrombosis, embolism, inflammation and animal parasites. He was always politically active, and his liberal sympathies in the unrest of 1848 helped to lose him his Berlin post; but Würzburg gave him another and 7 years later he returned to Berlin as professor of pathological anatomy. He remained in politics and, as a Reichstag member, opposed Bismarck so forcefully that the latter challenged him to a duel in 1865; Virchow managed to avoid this. In the 1850s Virchow took up cell theory with enthusiasm, and applied it to pathology; he saw disease as originating in cells, or as the response of cells to abnormal conditions. His ideas led to much fruitful work, aided by the improvements in microscopes after 1850 and the introduction of the microtome for making thin sections and dyes for selective staining. Modern pathology begins with him, and he became Germany’s leading medical scientist. was his near-contemporary; however, Virchow did not enthuse over the germ theory of disease. He saw disease as a continuous change in the cells, rather than as a result only of an invasive agent (we now recognize diseases of both types, of course). Similarly he saw the theory of evolution as a hypothesis only and voted against its inclusion in school biology.

He was an enthusiast for anthropology and archaeology and worked on the 1879 dig to discover the site of Troy. In practical politics, his efforts in public health in Berlin led to improved water and sewage purification.

Virtanen, Arthuri Ilmari [next]

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