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Kocher, Emil Theodor

gland thyroxine devised thyroid

(1841–1917) Swiss surgeon.

Born and educated in Bern, Kocher qualified in medicine at the city’s University in 1865, and spent his career there researching and teaching surgery. Antiseptic and aseptic methods were quickly coming into general use, and Kocher devised his own improvements. His teaching included a course for military doctors, and Kocher within a few years made an improved study of gunshot wounds. From then on he carried out surgery of all kinds, from one end of the gastrointestinal tract to the other, together with work on joints and on the brain, and in many surgical procedures he devised valuable improvements. Goitre is common in Switzerland, and by 1914 he had removed the thyroid gland from 2000 patients with a mortality of only 4.5%. Kocher kept good post-operative records, observed the effects on patients of partial or complete removal of the gland, and contributed to the realization that its function is to produce an iodine-containing hormone (thyroxine) whose excess or deficiency leads to characteristic diseases. (During the First World War in the USA isolated thyroxine in pure form from pig thyroids, and the study of hormones–endocrinology–became established.)

Kocher was the first surgeon to receive a Nobel Prize: it was awarded to him in 1909, for his work on the thyroid gland.

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