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Franz Josef Kallmann

Born 1897
Died 1965

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German-American psychiatrist and geneticist, born July 24, 1897, Silesia, Germany (now in Poland); died 1965, Columbia-Presbyterian medical centre, New York.

Biography of Franz Josef Kallmann

Franz Josef Kallmann was one of the first to study the genetic basis of psychiatric disorder. He spent most of his career in New York, where he pioneered the use of twin studies in the assessment of the relative roles of heredity and the environment in the pathogenesis of psychiatric disease.

He was the son of a surgeon and general practitioner. He studied medicine at the University of Breslau, qualifying in 1919. Following graduation Kallmann decided to study psychiatry, a decision that may have been influenced by Alois Alzheimer (1864-1915) who was one of his teachers. In the beginning he took an interest in criminology and forensic psychiatry, and his doctoral thesis was titled "Zufällige Stichverletzungen als Todesursache" (Breslau 1921).

He spent his internship at the Allerheiligen Hospital in Breslau. After a few years in private practice, he spent four years working at the psychiatric institute of the University of Berlin, where his mentor was the psychiatrist Karl Friedrich Bonhoeffer (1868-1948). He also studied psychoanalysis at the Berlin Institute of Psychoanalysis and learned neuropathology as an assistant to Hans Gerhardt Creutzfeldt (1885-1964).

In 1929, Kallmann was made chief of the neuropathological laboratories of two mental hospitals in Berlin, and the same year accepted a position at the staff of the psychiatric research institute which had been founded in Munich by Emil Kraepelin (1856-1926), now called the Max Planck Institute. It was at this stage of his career that he developed his lifelong interest in the genetic basis of schizophrenia.

In Munich, Kallmann commenced familial studies in psychiatry. He has said that he conducted his first family study to prove that schizophrenia is an inheritable disorder. He had ha a rather dominant nanny who, every time he was to meet the family of a person who had fallen into schizophrenia, called him saying: "Doctor, that familial weakness is here".

The enormously big study of the incidence of schizophrenia among siblings and children of persons with schizophrenia began here. Kallmann received valuable help from his wife Helly and other assistants to cope with this great work. In total he got together 13,851 persons, of whom 1,087 were test persons and were registered at the Herzberge-hospital in Berlin during the years 1893-1902. Persons who had fallen sick after the age of 40 were excluded to avoid dementias of recent debuts.

With the advent of the Nazi era in 1933, an exodus of anti-Nazi elite began. Kallmann was considered a Jew because his father was of Jewish stock but had converted to Christianity. He remained in Germany until 1936, when he moved to the USA and settled in New York. In this period he co-operated closely with the German Research Foundation for Psychiatry in Munich and its leader, Ernst Rüdin (1874-1952) who helped Kallmann in leaving Germany and finding a job in USA. Rüdin's assistant, Theobald Lang (1898-1957) delivered data-material from Munich to New York.

The Nazis made sterilisation of psychotic patients compulsory. This met with some resistance in the medical community, but like many researchers who fled Germany, even Jews, Kallmann did not disapprove of Nazi eugenic politics. In fact, he demanded an even more radical sterilization policy than the Nazis.

A German in America
Kallmann's early years in America were difficult, but eventually he became chief of psychiatric research in medical genetics at the New York State Psychiatric Institute and head of medical genetics at the Columbia-Presbyterian medical centre.

In 1938 he published The Genetics of Schizophrenia, a book of almost 300 pages originally written as a treatise in Germany. Here he concluded that schizophrenia seems to be a recessive inheritable trait. The risk of falling sick with schizophrenia for the children of schizophrenic parents was 16,4 percent, compared to an incidence of 0,85 percent in an normal population. The mortality among patients, their children and siblings was considerably increased because of an increased mortality from suicide and tuberculosis.

Kallmann later did a study of twins in the USA demonstrating a 69 percent risk of an identical twin to fall sick if the other twin had the disease.

In 1943 he published a classical study of the weight of genetic predisposition for falling sick with tuberculosis.

In 1948, with some colleagues, Kallmann founded the American Society of Human Genetics, and American Journal of Human Genetics. However, for many years the society was rather small and it was hard to find members. Although his work made an impact amongst medical geneticists, many of his psychiatric colleagues rejected the notion that differences in human behaviour could have a genetic basis. This was to a large degree a consequence of the fact that it had become almost a tabu to discuss genetics and genetical advice after the Nazi war crimes. People feared a repetition. By and by, however, Kallmann succeeded in winning acceptance and received honorary awards for his work and his engagement in this field.

Kallmann was a very prolific writer. Most of his papers concerned the fields of psychiatry, above all schizophrenia, genetics and genetic counselling. In total he was co-writer of 176 papers and 49 book. At his death on May 12, 1965, he was president of American Psychopathological Association.

"Franz Kallmann was a many-sided person. He was a scientist in the broadest sense with a fertile imagination, a thorough knowledge of subject matter and method, a scanning interest in all human activity and the constant ability to frame richly suggestive hypotheses and to formulate careful research plans for their investigation. At the same time, he was always a good physician, a knower of men and a student of human fortitude and weakness, a family counsellor and a clinical psychiatrist in the noblest tradition."
From a eulogy by his colleague John D. Rainer.

We thank Marten Spilok for information submitted.

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