Albert Wojciech Adamkiewicz

Born 1850
Died 1921

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Polish physician and pathologist, born August 11, 1850, Zerków (western Poland); died October 31, 1921, Vienna.

Biography of Albert Wojciech Adamkiewicz

The following biography is mainly based on an article written by Wojciech Pawlina (Associate Professor, Department of Anatomy, Mayo Clinic/Mayo Medical School) and Izabela Maciejewska (Medical University of Gdañsk, Gdañsk, Poland). The article appeared in volume 15, 2002 of Clinical Anatomy. We first received this article from the editor of Clinical Anatomy, Stephen W. Carmichael, Professor and Chair of Anatomy, Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Mayo Clinic.

Albert Wojciech Adamkiewicz was the son of Adolf Adamkiewicz, a small-town physician. He graduated from high school with honours in 1868 and that year, aged 18, began his study of medicine in Königsberg (Polish name Królewiec, now Kaliningrad, Russia) in East Prussia. Six months later he moved to the University of Breslau (now Wroc³aw, south-western Poland), where he worked as a student assistant in the Department of Physiology, then under the direction of Professor Rudolf Peter Heinrich Heidenhain (1834-1897).

When the Franco-Prussian war broke out in 1870, he was drafted into the army. In 1871, after the end of the war, on the advise of Heidenhain, he continued his medical studies, now at the University of Würzburg in Bavaria. Here he was also employed as a student assistant in the Department of Anatomic Pathology under the direction of professor Friedrich Daniel von Recklinghausen (1833-1910). In 1872 he won first prize in the student research competition for a treatise on mechanical methods of phlebotomy. This was presented as part of his doctoral dissertation at the University of Würzburg.

In 1873, at the age of 23, Adamkiewicz returned to Breslau, where he passed the state examination and received his medical diploma. Only a few weeks later he entered a position as assistant in the Department of Physiology and Clinical Medicine at the University of Königsberg under Wilhelm von Wittich (1821-1884). In 1875 he was promoted to Director of the Clinical Laboratory in the Department of Clinical Medicine, working with Bernhard Naunyn (1839—1935), and the next year he successfully defended his dissertation. Now an assistant professor in physiology, he began the independent research that would make him famous.

In 1877 Carl Friedrich Otto Westphal (1833-1890) offered him the position of senior physician in the Department of Neurology at the Charité Hospital in Berlin. In Germany, most French terms, like Charité and Pour le Mérite, go back to the time of King Friedrich Wilhelm II of Prussia (Der alte Fritz – 1712-1786), at whose court only French was spoken. This position allowed him to pursue his research on the central nervous system, which led to his second dissertation, his Habilitationsschrift, which habilitated him as Privatdozen (associate professor) in pathology at the university.

Now a well-known physiologist, neuropathologist, skilful physician, and popular lecturer, in 1880 Adamkiewicz, still only thirty years of age, was offered the new Chair of General and Experimental Pathology at Collegium Medicum of Jagiellonian of Jagiellonian University in Kraków, Poland. Here he soon overcame his deficiencies in the Polish language and earned respect as an excellent educator, lecturer, and laboratory instructor, well known for supplementing his lectures with scientific experiments. Here his career flourished. He received international awards, published in Polish, German, French and Latin, and in 1886 he became a member of the prestigious French Société de Biologie.

Glory, however, was not to last. In the early 1890s, Adamkiewicz published a series of papers describing the discovery of a cancer-causing parasite that he named ”Coccidium sarcolytus", and began treating cancer with injections of a specially prepared serum that he named “cancroin”. This triggered severe critiques of his work by the Jagiellonian University faculty, who deemed the publication of his studies premature. This criticism caused him to relocate to Vienna for a sabbatical in the Department of Surgery directed by his friend Professor Eduard Albert (1841-1900). Here, he initiated clinical trials with his anticancer serum, which turned out to be a fiasco. The unsuccessful results of his clinical trials and loss of support from the scientific community permanently closed the door for him to return to Kraków. In 1893, at age 43, he retired from active research, citing his deteriorating health. For the next thirty years, Adamkiewicz quietly practiced medicine as the head of a ward at the Rothschild's Jewish Hospital in Vienna and continued to publish his clinical observations.

Adamkiewicz’s research interests included the blood supply to the CNS especially the spinal cord and medulla oblongata, neuroanatomy, neurohistology, and the pathogenesis of cancer.

Many of Adamkiewicz’s over one hundred scientific publications have survived the test of time.

  • Wojciech Pawlina and Izabela Maciejewska:
    Albert Wojciech Adamkiewicz 1850-1921.
    Clinical Anatomy, New York, 2002, 15: 318-320. Section ”A Glimpse of the Past”.

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