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Hermann Oppenheim

Born 1858
Died 1919

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German neurologist, born January 1, 1858, Warburg, Westphalen; died May 22, 1919, Berlin.

Biography of Hermann Oppenheim

Hermann Oppenheim was the acknowledged leader of German clinical neurology during the last decade of the nineteenth century, an especially fertile period for this rapidly expanding field.

After graduating from the Gymnasium in 1876 he studied medicine at the universities of Göttingen, Berlin, and Bonn. During the years 1880-1882 he was especially interested in physiology and, under the guidance of Nathan Zuntz (1847-1920), published three papers on the metabolism of urea, which formed the basis of his doctoral dissertation in 1881 on the topic of urea metabolism.

He was approved physician in 1882, and thereafter was assistant at the Berlin hospital Maison de Santé, before he came to the neurological and psychiatric clinic of the Charité, a part of the University of Berlin, where he worked from 1883 to 1891.

Oppenheim was the favourite assistant of Karl Friedrich Otto Westphal (1833-1890), whose support enabled him to become established as Privatdozent in 1886. Whilst Westphal was ill, Oppenheim was his assistant and in charge of his clinic, but after the death of Westphal in 1890, Oppenheim was vetoed by the Prussian secretary of education, acting in the spirit of intolerance of that period, although Oppenheim had been unanimously nominated by the Berlin faculty to succeed Westphal.

He was forced to leave the Charité and in 1890 opened a private clinic, which enabled him to increase the tempo of his research activity. Although his clinic was not connected to the university, it soon became an international centre of neurology, attracting large numbers of students. In 1893 he was appointed extraordinary professor, but resigned from his tenure in 1898. He died in 1919, 61 years of age.

Oppenheim was primarily a diagnostician. He wrote extensively on numerous neurological disorders and produced a textbook of neurology, Lehrbuch der Nervenkrankheiten für Ärzte und Studierende. The work is considered a landmark in neurology for its scholarly approach and thorough documentation. It passed through seven German editions and was translated into a number of languages,

He was the first to emphasise the importance of bladder symptoms in disseminated sclerosis. In 1889 he published a treatise on traumatic neuroses which proposed that trauma caused organic changes which perpetuated psychic neuroses. This was fiercely opposed by Jean-Martin Charcot (1825-1893), Max Nonne (1861-1959) and others, especially with regard to malingering and hysteria.

Oppenheim's investigations included studies on sclerosis, syphilis, polio, alcoholism, and amyotonia congenita (Oppenheim's disease). He was one of the first to try Ehrlich’s Salvarsan in the treatment of syphilis His later work on the diagnosis and treatment of brain disease led directly to the first successful removal of a brain tumor, which was performed by R. Köhler, and he reported the first successful removal of a pineal tumor with Fedor Krause (1857-1937) In Ziehen-Oppenheim disease he emphasised the characteristic "dromedary-gait" but this disorder was first described by Marcus Walter Schwalbe (born 1883).

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