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RUDOLF VIRCHOW AND THE DURABILITY OF CELLULAR PATHOLOGY HAROLD M. MALKIN* As scientific medicine approaches the twenty-first century, it is notable that in its component field of pathology, the concept of cellular pathology , first formulated by Rudolf Virchow [1] in 1855, is still alive and well. Two of the most current textbooks of pathology [2, 3] each have their first chapters dedicated to the cell; and Rubin and Farber, in the preface to their book, state that they "remain dedicated to Virchow's original concept that 'the cell is really the ultimate morphological element in which there is any manifestations of life and ... we must not transfer the seat of real action to any point beyond the cell' " [3, p. ix]. The story of the development of the concept of cellular pathology is interesting since it involved certain factors that often occur when there is a quantum jump in knowledge in a given scientific field. First, advancement in instrumentation or procedures developed in ancillary disciplines can often produce a major breakthrough in a scientific field. In biology and medicine, in 1830, the achromatic compound microscope was developed to a degree of perfection that allowed investigators to observe living material for hours without undue fatigue at 300 magnification and moderately good resolution [4]. Before that time comparable magnification could be accomplished only with the simple microscope by indefatigable men such as Antony van Leeuwenhoek [5], whose lenses were sometimes as small as a grain of sand, but who nevertheless was able to visualize objects as tiny as unstained bacteria. Second, the establishment of well-equipped scientific laboratories, under the direction of outstanding scholars and leaders, is essential to creating a milieu that encourages new discoveries. This occurred in Germany [6], starting in 1830, at which time the old universities not only overthrew their medieval traditions but also discarded the influence of Friedrich Schelling's *Vesalius Medical Laboratory Consultants, 250 The Uplands, Berkeley, California 94705.© 1990 by The University of Chicago. All rights reserved. 003 1 -5982/90/3303-0682$0 1 .00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, 33,3 ¦ Spring 1990 j 43 1 natural philosophy, which had encouraged deductive speculation in the early part of the century rather than making careful observations and experiments. This was particularly true at the University of Berlin, whereJohannes Müller established a school ofbiology that was to have a monumental effect on the fields of anatomy, physiology, and pathology during the years 1830-1858. This stimulating teacher [7] had as his disciples not only Rudolf Virchow, but also Jacob Henle, Theodore Schwann, Emil DuBois Reymond, Ernst Brücke, Robert Remak, Gabriel Valentin, Karl Reichert, Rudolf Kolliker, Hermann Helmholtz, Benno Reinhardt, Karl Kupffer, Max Schultze, Johanne Miescher, Joseph Gerlach , Eduard Pflueger, and Hermann Stannius, who together with their respective students almost completely dominated all the fields ofbiology up to the period before the First World War. Most were expert microscopists and, using this instrument, produced a body of knowledge that filled many books and journals, particularly in the fields of histology , embryology, physiology, and pathology. Of all of Muller's students, Virchow was to achieve the most fame, not because he was a great investigator like Helmholtz, Henle, Remak, or Kolliker, but because he had some unusual abilities not often found so developed in scientists. He was one of those politician academics who essentially made his reputation because he had an incisive mind, a pugnacious temperament, a dramatic manner of speaking and writing, and a tremendous capacity for work. These characteristics together with a carefully honed and often ruthless political ability enabled him to become a dominating personality in medicine for more than halfa century, not only in biology and medicine, but in such diverse fields as anthropology , archaeology, public hygiene, and government [8]. With regard to the latter, he was one of the few individuals in the Prussian parliament personally and dangerously to challenge the veracity of the despotic Otto von Bismarck, the first chancellor of the German Empire. In 1845, at the age of 24 and essentially an unknown, he dared to verbally admonish the established physicians at a scientific meeting to stop their speculative deductions about disease, to concentrate on careful...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 431-443
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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