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Amico Bignami

Born 1862
Died 1919

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Italian pathologist, born April 15, 1862, Bologna; died September 8, 1919, Rome.

Biography of Amico Bignami

Amico Bignami graduated in Rome in 1882. He first worked in Rome as professor incaric, and for some years was assistant to Tommasi Crudelli in pathology. In 1883 he was appointed professor extraordinary of pathology, and in 1906 became full professor at the Royal University of Rome. In 1917 he was appointed professor of medicine, holding that position until his retirement in 1921. From 1896 he was primary physician at the Ospedale riuniti di Roma.

Bignami's scientific works concern the pathological anatomy of the brain, acromegaly, the leukaemic diseases, but his particular interest was in malaria research. In 1896 he put forth the hypothesis of infection by mosquitoes and attempted to prove the mosquito theory in man. Bignami had captured mosquitoes from regions with a high incidence of malaria and allowed them to bite healthy human beings. But like Ronald Ross in his early work, Bignami failed to appreciate that only one type of mosquito could transmit human malaria.

The next year, however, Sir Ronald Ross (1857-1932), a British Major in the Indian Medical Service, demonstrated the transmission of malaria by mosquitoes in an avian model. His experiments confirmed the ‘mosquito theory’ of malaria In 1898, Bignami, Giovanni Battista Grassi (1854-1925) and Giuseppe Bastianelli (1862-1959) first infected humans with malaria by mosquitoes. In this experiment Bignami produced malaria in himself, allowing an infected mosquito to bite him. On 28 November 1898 these observers were able to report to the Accademia dei Lincei their demonstration of the development of human malaria parasites on the gut wall of Anopheles claviger. This Italian group of investigators thus proved that the that mosquitoes of the genus Anopheles are the vector for human malaria.

In May 1919 Bignami, an agnostic, was called upon to study the wounds of Padre Pio, a priest who had had visions and found visible stigmata on his hands, feet, and side. In his report, Bignami characterized the wounds as "a necrosis of the epidermis of neurotic origin." He considered their symmetrical arrangement to be caused by "unconscious suggestion."

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