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Cohnheim, Julius

pathology evidence studies tuberculosis

[kohn hiym] (1839–84) German pathologist: a pioneer of experimental pathology.

A graduate in medicine from Berlin, Cohnheim became an assistant to and was probably his most famous pupil. He attracted many students himself, as a teacher of pathology at Kiel, Breslaw and finally Leipzig. His early work was in histology: soon after graduating he devised the freezing technique for sectioning fresh tissue and later a method of staining sections with a solution of gold. From 1867 he published a masterly series of studies on inflammation; he showed by experiments with frogs how blood vessels responded in its early stages and proved that the leucocytes (white cells) pass through the walls of capillaries at the site of inflammation and later degenerate to become pus corpuscles and others were later to confirm and extend these studies.

Despite evidence, tuberculosis (then a major cause of death in Europe) was not easily accepted as infectious. Cohnheim provided new and convincing evidence by injecting tuberculosis matter into the chamber of a rabbit’s eye and then observing the tuberculous process through its cornea. He also studied heart disease, examining obstruction of the coronary artery and deducing correctly that the resulting lack of oxygen led to myocardial damage (infarction). This work was reviewed and the condition named as ‘coronary thrombosis’ by J B Herrick (1861–1954) in 1912.

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