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Daniel Cornelius Danielssen

Born 1815
Died 1894

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Norwegian dermatologist, born July 4, 1815, Bergen; died July 13, 1894, Bergen.

Biography of Daniel Cornelius Danielssen

Daniel Cornelius Danielssen made Bergen a world centre of lepra research in the middle of the nineteenth century.

He was the son of the watchmaker Berent Henrik Danielssen in Bergen. At the age of thirteen he was apprenticed at Svaneapotheket in Bergen. He had been in this position for four years when an inflammation of the hip joint kept him bed ridden for one and a half year. This was probably a case of tuberculosis and caused a slight drag of his one leg for the rest of his life.

Following his cure he travelled to Christiania, where he passed the preliminary examination in the end of January 1835. The summer that year he accompanied professor Matthias Numsen Blytt (1789–1862) on botanical excursions in the mountain area Dovrefjell. The autumn that year he commenced the study of medicine, graduating on June 2, 1939 with outstanding marks, 2,3.

He then worked for one year as an esquadron surgeon to the corps of mounted corps of chasseurs in Akershus county and as amanuensis under brigadier surgeon Jens Johan Hjort (1798-1873). He was also district physician in Stavanger and Ryfylke before he returned to Bergen. On September 3, 1840, he was appointed physician to the Nordfjordske nationale Musketercorps. During this period he also studied physiology, chemistry, and diseases of the skin.

During the winter of 1839-1840, Danielssen began investigating lepra at St. Jørgens Hospital. In July 1840 Carl Wilhelm Boeck (1805-1875), then miner's physician spent a few weeks in Bergen on a scholarship to learn more about lepra. He worked with Danielssen at St. Jørgens and the two of them agreed to cooperate on what eventually became their famous work on lepra, Om Spedalskhed (1847).

Boeck subsequently proposed to the government that Danielssen should receive public support for continuing his studies at St. Jørgens. His work in Bergen marked the beginning of the modern medical history of leprosy. Danielssen, and his son-in-law Gerhard Armauer Hanssen, were the two most important figures in the study of lepra in the nineteenth century.

By royal decree of February 12, 1841, the government granted St. Jørgens 120 speciedaler pluss the annual amount of 450 speciedaler over two years for instigating observations and investigations concerning the leprosy disease. From March 1841 Danielssen was in charge of this with an annual salary of 240 speciedaler. From January 1st that year he had been appointed physical to the Stiftelsen with an annual salary of 50 speciedaler.

From 1843, on his own expenses, he spent one year abroad, visiting Berlin, Vienna and Paris to study diseases of the skin, physiology, and pathological anatomy.

On November 21, 1846, Danielssen was appointed physician-in-chief to the lepra instititution to be etsablished in Bergen. He was then granted a travel scholarship of 800 speciedaler which enabled him to undertake another educational journey abroad. This time he visited Switzerland, Lombardy,, Sardinia, and Paris, where he spent most of the time.

In 1947, With Carl Wilhelm Boeck, he published his famous book Om Spedalskhed (on leprosy). This was printed with government support in Christiania, and in French translation in Paris, supervised by Danielssen. Danielssen and Boeck gave an exact description of the disease picture of leprosy. To this work was added a large atlas with drawings of leprosy patients by J. L. Losting (1810-1876). This work became the foundation of the modern medical history of leprosy and made Bergen an international centre of leprosy research

In 1853 he went abroad again, at his own expenses, spending almost half a year in England and France.

Bergen, Europe's capital of leprosy
At the middle of the nineteenth century, Norway had relatively more leprosy cases than any other European country, and there was a major increase in leprosy cases in the western parts of the country. Hardest hit was the area around Bergen, which was then a European capital of leprosy. This occasioned the establishment of a new research Hospital, Lungegaardshospitalet, of which Danielssen was head physician from October 1. 1849. The hospital accommodated 84 patients, but already on Christmas night 1953 the entire building burned down, with six patients and a waking lady killed. The hospital was immediately rebuilt, this time as a solid brick building with the capacity of 85 patients.

In 1856 the districts physicians of Norway counted the number of lepers in Norway. The result showed that the country, with a pupulation of only one-and-a-half million, had almost 3,000 lepers, or 2 per thousand. Most cases, however, were concentrated in western Norway, with a frequency of 25 per thousand. Therefore, more hospitals were required.

In 1857, Pleiestiftelsen for spedalske No 1 was opened, the third lepra hospital in Bergen. This two storey building with two wings was then one of the largest wooden buildings in Norway, accommodating 280 lepers. The building is still in use, now as a rehabilitation centre.

In addition to the three hospitals in Bergen, institutions for lepers were also built in Molde (Reknes) and Trondheim (Reitgjerdet). The total capacity of these hospitals from the beginning of the 1860s was some 1.000 beds for somewhat less than 2,700 leprosy patients in Norway at that time.

In 1859 Rudolf Virchow visited Danielssen in Bergen to study lepra.

A farewell to Fanny
Danielssen's professional success contrasts a privte life marked by tragedies. In 1839 he married Berthe Marie Olsen and the couple had 1 son and four daughters. However, both his wife and his four grown children died from tuberculosis.

In 1868 Gerhard Armauer Hansen (1841-1912) came to Bergen and entered service at the Pleiestiftelsen for spedalske nr 1. He soon moved on to the position of assistant physician at the Lungegaardshospitalet, working under Danielssen. Thus began a cooperation between two of the giants in leprosy research, the disease itself eventually being termed Hansen's.

In 1873, Hansen married Danielssen’s daughter, Stephanie Marie, nicknamed "Fanny". However, only a few months after the wedding it was discovered that she was infected with pulmonary tuberculosis. Like all her three sisters, who also died from the disease, she had been infected by her father. The disease had a fast course and she died on October 25 of the same year.

Doctor, scientist and politician
Danielssen was a busy man in public life. He was founder and member of a large number of organisations, both with a medical and a social purpose. In 1850 he was a founder of the theatre Den norske Scene, and from 1852 was on the board of Bergens Musæum (Bergen Museum). For two years Danielssen wrote anonymous reviews of the performances of the new theatre in Bergensposten.

During the years 1876 to 1878 he participated in the Norwegian expedition to the northern seas as a zoologist, and for ten years he was chairman of the "Selskabet for de norske Fiskeriers Fremme" (The Society for the Advancement of Norwegian Fisheries) and was also elected chairman of "Selskabet til Videnskabelighedens Fremme i Bergen" (The Society for the Advancement of Science in Bergen). He was also a member of the California Academy of Sciences (1888), the Siebenburg Society for the Natural Sciences (1889), Det Kongelige Danske Videnskabernes Selskab in Copenhagen (The Danish Royal Academy of Sciences, 1893), and member and honorary member of Wiener dermatologische Gesellschaft (1894).

Besides this, for 30 years Danielssen participated uninterruptedly in the communal and political life in Bergen. He was one of the representatives of Bergen to Stortinget (the Norwegian parliament) 1862-63 1864, 1871-73 and 1875-76, as well as the extraordinary session in 1866. He was a member of Stortinget's deputation to the opening of the Stockholm-Gothenburg railway in 1862, as well as the coronation in Stockholm in 1873. He was later to play an important role in the initiative to build the Oslo-Bergen railway, one of the most scenic in the world.

Among the honours bestowed on Danielssen was an honorary doctorate from the medical faculty of the University of Lund, Sweden (1868), and an honorary doctorate from the faculty of mathematics and natural sciences, University of Copenhagen (1879).

In 1885 a group of Bergen citizens had his bust made in marble to be placed in Bergen Museum. This was made by the sculptor Mathias Skeibrok (1851-1896). In 1883, on assignment of physicians in Bergen and Oslo, his portrait was painted in oil by Ms. Leis Schjelderup and hung in the Skin department in Rigshospitalet, Norway's new national research hospital.

In 1894 Danielssen survived a pneumonia, but then a previously recognised anaemia developed rapidly and he died of heart failure on July 13, 1894.

The autopsy revealed a stiff hip joint with scars resulting from the infection of the hip he suffered at the age of 16, as well as pretty large scars at both apex of the lungs, as well as fatty infiltration and degeneration of the heart.

Danielssen left his entire fortune, some 90,000 kroner, to Bergens Museum, and his collection of paintings to Bergens billedgalleri. Following his funeral ceremony in the entrance hall of Bergens Museum, his body was brought by ship to Gothenburg by Armauer Hansen and others for cremation, a service then still not available in Norway. Danielssen and Hansen were among the first in Norway to decide that they wanted to be cramated after their death. They had estableshed Bergens Ligbrændingsforening (Bergen Cremation Society), but still no cramatorium existed in Norway. Danielssen was cremated in Gothenburg on July 21, 1894. The process took 2 hours and 10 minutes. This was only the 47th cremation in Gothenburg, and the first of a non Swede. His ashes are placed in the socket of his bust, made by Skeibrok, in the Bergens Museum. On February 17, 1912 the ashes of Armauer Hansen were placed besides those of Danielssen, but this time the ceremony was conducted with considerably more pomp and circumstances.

Iherited, or contragious?
Danielssen and Boeck considered lepra to be an inherited disease. Their measures against the spread of the disease were therefore based on this assumption. The belief in inheritance was based upon the fact that the disease occurred in certain families or on certain farms. Some farms were even referred to as "lepra farms". The belief in inheritance seemed natural, as statistical material clearly pointed towards an inheritable factor.

Despite their belief in the theory of inheritance, however, Danielssen and collaborators also investigated the possibility of contagiousness. On several occasions both Danielssen and others inoculated themselves with leprous material. This was done by making a cut in the skin, filling it with tissue from the leprous node of a patient, and then sewing it up. None of them caught the disease, however, a fact that understandably strengthened their belief that the disease was inherited.

In this question, Danielssen came into conflict with his son-in-law, who was soon convinced that lepra was a contagious disease and not inherited. Armauer Hansen later emphasised that it was just great luck that none of the inoculated fell ill, not from leprosy, but from blood poisoning. This was because the inoculations were done at at time when the need for antiseptic cleaning of the instruments was not yet known. Neither did they know that the inoculated matter might contain other and far more dangerous microbes than the leprosy bacillus.

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