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Max Wilms

Born  1867
Died  1918

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German surgeon, born November 5, 1867, Hünshoven; died May 14, 1918. Heidelberg.

Biography of Max Wilms

Max Wilms, the son of a lawyer, was born in Hünshoven/Geilenkirchen, near Aachen and West of Cologne, close to the Belgian border. He studied at an impressive array of German universities, including Munich, Marburg, Berlin, and Bonn, obtaining his doctorate in 1890 at Bonn. Wilms' peripatetic student career presaged his professional life. Following graduation he held a post in Giessen, before he was appointed pathological anatomist to the Pathological Institute of Cologne under Otto Michael Ludwig Leichtenstern (1845-1900). Wilms was in Leipzig, working under Trendelenburg Friedrich Trendelenburg (1844-1924) between 1897 and 1899, when his book on what has come to be known as Wilms' tumour was published.

He was habilitated for surgery at Leipzig in 1899, becoming ausserordentlicher professor in 1904. In 1907 he was appointed professor of surgery in Basel and in 1910 he reached the peak of his career when he was called to the chair at the University of Heidelberg. Wilms was described as diligent and highly intelligent, possessing an exceptional working capacity, as well as being a dextrous surgeon.

Wilms made great efforts to map the pathology and development of tumour cells, and after investigating a comprehensive material of renal tumours he maintained that tumour cells are initiated already in the development of the embryo. He had a special interest in nephrology and his major contributions were in the surgical pathology of the kidney, bladder and urogenital tract.

In May 1918, Wilms performed a laryngotomy/cricotomy on a French prisoner of war who had laryngeal swelling secondary to diphteria. However, Wilms acquired the disease in a severe septic form and died a few days later. He was only 51 years old, at the height of a distinguished career. The French officer survived.

With Ludwig Wullstein (1864-1930), Wilms published the Lehrbuch der Chirurgie. Jena, 1908-1909; 7th edition, 1923; translated into English, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and Hungarian.

We thank Anke Hacker for information submitted.


  • Die Mischgescwülste. Leipzig, 1899.
    Wilms was only 32 years of age when he produced his important monograph on the pathology of mixed tissue tumours. His book dispelled existing confusion and his classification provided the foundation for modern concepts concerning this group of disorders.
  • Verletzungen und Erkrankungen des Ellenbogens und Vorderarmes.
    Handbuch der praktischen Chirurgie, volume 4; Stuttgart 1901; 4th edition, 1914.
  • Studien zur Pathologie der Verbrennung. Die Ursache des Todes nach ausgedehnter Hautverbrennung.
    Mitteilungen aus den Grenzgebieten der Medizin und Chirurgie, Jena, 1901, 8: 393-442.
    Wilms was the first to carry out full excision of burnt tissue, and sometimes grafted excises areas.
  • Die Entwicklung der Knochen der oberen exträmitet, dargestellt in Röntgenbilder.
    Fortschritte auf dem Gebiete der Röntgenstrahlen, supplement 9. Hamburg, 1902.
  • Der Ileus. Deutsche Chirurgie, volume 46 g; Stuttgart, 1906.
  • Chirurgische Behandlung der Verletzungen und Erkrankungen des Kopfes.
    Handbuch der gesamten Therapie, 4th edition, volume 6; Jena, 1911.
  • Karzinome des Epi-, Meso- und Hypopharynx.
    With Ernst von Bergmann (1836-1907).
    Handbuch der praktischen Chirurgie, 4th edition, volume 1; Stuttgart, 1913.
  • Die Freilegung der Pharynxräume für Operationen in ihnen.
    With Ernst von Bergmann.
    Handbuch der praktischen Chirurgie, 4th edition, volume 1; Stuttgart, 1913.
  • Der Darmverschluss (Ileus).
    Handbuch der praktischen Chirurgie, 4th edition, volume 3; Stuttgart, 1913.

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