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SAMUEL J. MELTZER: PIONEER CATALYST IN THE EVOLUTION OF CLINICAL SCIENCE IN AMERICA A. McGEHEE HARVEY* An important pioneer in the creation of medicine's scientific base in America was SamuelJ. Meltzer. A distinguished promoter of the application of experimental methods to clinical research, Meltzer made his most significant contributions in the borderland between medical science and medical practice. He was able to combine in an extraordinary manner the life of the practitioner and the life of the real specialist in experimental physiology. He was a firm believer in the value of learned societies for the stimulation of creative thought and activity and was a leading figure in the organization of several of the present-day American societies for medical research. Early Life in Europe SamuelJames Meltzer was born ofJewish parents on March 22, 1851, in northwestern Russia. He married at the age of 20, and in the fall of 1876 he moved with his family to Berlin, where he remained as a student of medicine for the next 5 years. These were lean years financially, and the family lived in an attic room, spending as little as possible of their meager income on food and clothing in order to pay for his medical courses at the university. He studied under the outstanding German professors of that era—DuBois-Reymond, Virchow, Helmholtz, Friedl änder, and others. It is not difficult to imagine how the eager mind of young Meltzer must have been deeply stimulated by such masters. However , the one who exercised the greatest influence on his future career was the physiologist Hugo Kronecker, with whom Meltzer developed a strong friendship. With his attractive, friendly personality, his devotion to experimental science, and his thorough training in physiology under Helmholtz and Ludwig and in medicine under Traube, Kronecker was the ideal guide for a younger man beginning a scientific career. In fact, *The E. Kennerly Marshall, Jr., Professor of Medicine, The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, Baltimore, Maryland 21205.© 1978 by The University of Chicago. 0031-5982/78/2103-0064$01.00 Perspectives in Biology and Medicine ¦ Spring 1978 | 431 Fig. 1.—Samuel James Meltzer, M.D. (1851-1920) (from [4]) most of Meltzer's subsequent work centered around an idea—the phenomenon of inhibition—which was brought out during his experimental studies in Kronecker's laboratory. Meltzer had obtained a record of a single swallowing movement, but found that with successive swallows the record changed completely and contractions failed to appear [I]. Kronecker suggested that this was due to the phenomenon of "inhibition"—as essential a process in cellular activity as "excitation." He reasoned that all living tissues are irritable, that is, they respond to stimulation with a vital reaction. This reaction can be either a manifestation of their specific activity, excitation, or it can be an inhibition of an existing activity. Absolute rest occurs when both opposing energies are exactly even, and the difference between activity and rest consists only in the fact that excitation predominates during activity and inhibition during rest. Meltzer turned his attention to finding experimental proof of this hypothesis. His studies on respiratory function strengthened his belief, as did his work on the gastrointestinal tract. Later, in his search for an agent causing inhibition, he discovered the depressing properties of magnesium and found in this substance what he believed to be the representative ofinhibition in the animal body. It was under Kronecker that Meltzer completed his inaugural dissertation for the degree ofdoctor of medicine [1—4]. After medical school graduation, Meltzer could have made his career as a scientist in Germany, but only ifhe were willing to be baptized in the 432 I A. McGehee Harvey ¦ Samuelf. Meltzer Christian faith. His sturdy character did not permit this form of blackmail, and his eyes turned to America, whose government promised the greatest freedom in speech and action. Not having sufficient means to purchase his passage, he worked on a transatlantic liner as ship's physician to make his way to New York. Although he had letters of introduction to the leading scientific and medical men of that city, he obtained material assistance from none ofthem. He entered the practice of medicine and after 2 years...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1529-8795
Print ISSN
0031-5982
Pages
pp. 431-440
Launched on MUSE
2015-01-07
Open Access
No
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