- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Nikolaus Friedreich

Born  1825
Died  1882

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German clinician and neurologist, born July 1, 1825, Würzburg; died 1882.

Biography of Nikolaus Friedreich

Nikolaus Friedreich was the son of Johannes Baptist Friedreich (1796-1862), and grandson of Nikolaus Anton Friedreich, both professor of medicine in Würzburg. Born in Würzburg in 1825, Friedreich had his schooling and from 1844 received medical training in the city where his father and grandfather had been professors of medicine, but in 1847 visited Heidelberg for half a year. He completed his studies in 1849, in 1850 passed the examina and received his doctorate in Würzburg. He became assistant at the clinic of the blinded clinician Karl Friedrich von Marcus (1802-1862) and in 1853 was habilitated as Privatdocent of special pathology and therapy.

Before Rudolf Virchow came to Würzburg in 1849, Friedreich had been a disciple of the Swiss anatomist, embryologist, and histologist Rudolf Albert von Kölliker (1817-1905). Among other things, with his friend Karl Gegenbaur he had authored a treatise on the Schädel des Axolotl. However, when Virchow came to Würzburg, Friedreich became a true and ardent student of this great pathologist, and considered abandoning clinical medicine for pathology. As Virchow was called to Berlin in 1857, Friedreich was appointed extraordinary professor of pathological anatomy at Würzburg, and, in 1858 moved to the tenure of professor ordinarius of pathology and therapy at Heidelberg, a post which he held for the remainder of his career. In Heidelberg he was also director of the medical clinic, holding this position for 24 years, until his death.

A highly competent physician and pathologist, Friedreich took an interest in all branches of medicine, especially neurology. He was involved in the establishment of clinicopathological correlations, especially in the field of brain tumours, muscular dystrophy and spinal ataxias. Friedreich had tremendous drive and energy and in addition to his clinical and laboratory activities, as a teacher he was recognised for his ability to pass on his knowledge to his students. Among his students were Adolf Kussmaul (1822-1902), Friedrich Schultze (1848-1934) and Wilhelm Heinrich Erb (1840-1921). He has left eight major and 51 larger and smaller treatises, among them a number of monographs. These include works on diseases of the heart, the nerves, diseases of the nose and throat to the pancreas and thymus, investigations into the blood vessels, works on leukaemia and typhus, etc. Present day clinicians are still familiar with his name through the Friedreich's ataxia. Besides his academic work Friedreich had a large private practice, which occupied much of his time.

Friedreich was loyal to his friends but mistrustful and sensitive to criticism to a paranoid degree. His personality was reflected in his appearance as he wore a gloomy expression which was accentuated by his short, dark beard. He died from a ruptured aortic aneurysm.

Friedreich’s written work comprises 8 major works and 51 larger and smaller treatises.

«To me as a clinician the principles of cellular pathology have become the cynosure in the labyrinth of pathological process.»
Friedreich in a treatise dedicated to his teacher Rudolf Virchow.


  • Beiträge zur Lehre von den Geschwülsten innerhalb der Schädelhöhle. Habilitation thesis, 1853.
  • Ein neuer Fall von Leukämie.
    [Virchows] Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und für klinische Medicin, Berlin, 1857, 12: 37-58.
    First description of acute leukaemia.
  • Die Krankheiten der Nase, des Kehlkopfes, der Trachea, der Schild- und Thymusdrüse.
    In Virchow’s Handbuch der speciellen Pathologie und Therapie. 1858.
  • Ein Beitrag zur Pathologie der Trichinenkrankheit beim Menschen.
    [Virchows] Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und für klinische Medicin, Berlin, 1862, 25: 399-413.
  • Die Krankheiten des Herzens.
    Virchow’s Handbuch der speciellen Pathologie und Therapie. Erlangen, 1854, 5, 1 Abt, 385-530. 2nd edition, Erlangen, F. Enke, 1867.
  • Ueber degenerative Atrophie der spinalen Hinterstränge.
    [Virchows] Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und für klinische Medicin, Berlin, (A) 26: 391, 433; 1863.
  • Ueber Ataxie mit besonderer berücksichtigung der hereditären Formen.
    [Virchows] Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie und für klinische Medicin, Berlin, 1863.
  • Die Heidelberger Baracken für Krigesepidemien während des Feldzuges 1870 und 1871. Heidelberg, 1871.
  • Ueber progressive Muskelatrophie, über wahre und falsche Muskelatrophie. Berlin, 1873.
  • Der acute Milztumor und seine Beziehungen zu den acuten Infektionskrankheiten.
    [Volkmann’s] Sammlung klinischer Vorträge, Leipzig, 1874.
  • Paramyoklonus multiplex.
    [Virchows] Archiv für pathologische Anatomie und Physiologie, und für klinische Medicin, Berlin, 1881, 86: 421-430.
    First description of paramyoclonus multiplex, Friedreich’s disease. Obituaries:
  • Adolf Weil, Berliner klinische Wochenschrift, 1882, page 454.
  • Rudolf Virchow in his Archiv, volume XC, page 213.
  • Adolf Kussmaul, Deutsches Archiv für klinische Medizin, volume XXXII.
  • Heidelberger Professoren aus dem 19 Jahrhundert.
    Volume 2. Heidelberg, Winter, 1903 (Wilhelm Erb).
  • Verdienste deutscher Ärzte um die Erkenntnis der Neuro-pathologie.
    Inaugural dissertation. Düsseldorf, 1936 (Kleinjohann).

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