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Edward Flatau

Born 1869
Died 1932

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Polish neurologist, born December 27, 1869, Plock; died June 7, 1932, Warsaw.

Biography of Edward Flatau

We thank Piotr Flatau for writing this article about his grandfather for whonemdit.com:

Edward Flatau is Poland's most famous neurologist. He established neurobiologic and neuropathological sciences in Poland. At the same time he was an outstanding doctor. He was born on December 27, 1868 in P³ock. He went to medical school at the University of Moscow from 1886, being greatly influenced by the psychiatrist Sergei Sergeievich Korsakoff (1854-1900) and the neurologist Alexis Jakovlevich Kozhevnikof (1836-1902). Flatau became medical doctor in 1892 and spent the years 1893 to 1899 in Berlin in the laboratories of Emanuel Mendel (1839-1907), Wilhelm von Waldyer-Hartz (1836-1921), Alfred Goldscheider (1858-1935), and Ernst Viktor von Leyden (1832-1910). In 1894, at the age of 25 he published “Atlas of the human brain and the course of the nerve-fibres” which was published in German, English, French, Russian, and in 1896 in Polish.

With the Berlin neurobiologist Gad he performed experimental work on dogs and criticised Bastian-Bruns Law concerning the loss of function following spinal cord injury (1893). On the basis of numerous clinical spinal cord surgeries, experiments and subsequent observations he discovered that the ”greater the length of the fibres in the spinal cord the closer they are situated to the periphery” (Flatau's Law). The paper on this topic Das Gesetz der excentrischen Lagerung der langen Bahnen im Rückenmark was published in 1897. For this work he received Ph.D. in medical sciences in Moscow in 1899 (dissertation ”Zakon ekscentriczeskago raspo³o¿enia dlinnych putiej w spinnom mózgu”).

In 1895 Flatau became interested in Waldeyer’s neuron theory and became its proponent. In several publications he tried to establish unity between physiology and anatomy of neuron. Together with Alfred Goldscheider he worked on the structure of nerve cells and their changes under mechanical, thermal and toxic influences. They published results of their experiments in 1897 and 1898 in Fortschritte der Medizin and Gazeta Lekarska which were subsequently published as special monograph. They state that the character of changes in neuron cells could provide information about the type of influences acting on them.

Flatau and Wladyslaw Sterling in 1911 published an early paper on progressive torsion spasm in children the same year as Ziehen and Oppenheim. Unlike Oppenheim’s this paper suggested that the disease has genetic component.

Today his most referenced book is classical book about Migraine (1912).

In 1927 Flatau, independently of Emil Redlich in Vienna, described the first cases of encephalomyelitis epidemica disseminata (Flatau-Redlich disease). Flatau was convinced that this illness is caused by virus which was latter confirmed by Mergulis. Flatau described in detail Schilder disease and introduced its name encephalitis periaxialis diffusa.

By 1899 Flatau had established a name for himself both in Germany and abroad and returned to Poland during that year. Flatau was closely associated with attempts to re-establish Polish science during and after Russian occupation. After return he formed private microscopy laboratory at his apartments in Warsaw and worked in Warsaw hospitals as consultant. In 1911 he established a neurological laboratory in the Warsaw Psychologic Society and he became, in 1913, the first head of the Department of Neurobiology of Warsaw Scientific Society (Warszawskie Towarzystwo Naukowe) and from 1919 head of the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology which was then part of the Warsaw Scientific Society. In 1904 he becomes head of neurology in the Jewish Hospital in Warsaw (na Czystem).

During the 1st World War Flatau served in the Jewish Hospital with his great friend, the neurologist Samuel Vulfovitsj Goldflam (1852-1932). For a period they shared a house on Marszalkowska Street in Warsaw, until Goldflam moved out when Flatau married Helena Landau.

For many years he shared his responsibilities as experimentalist and neurologist between the laboratory and the hospital. He had large private practice. He was influential in establishing Polish medical periodicals “Neurologia Polska” and “Warszawskie Czasopismo Lekarskie”. He supported establishment of Neurological and Psychiatry Section of Warsaw Medical Society, had many outstanding students, excellent organizer, Polish patriot who supporter of democratic causes.

We thank Jacek Kociñski for information submitted.

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