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Robert Abbe

Born 1852-04-13
Died 1928-03-07

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American surgeon and pioneer radiologist, born April 13, 1851, New York City; died March 7, 1928.

Biography of Robert Abbe

Robert Abbe was born in New York City and attended the College of the City of New York before he studied medicine at Columbia University, becoming M.D. in 1874.

Abbe was most known as a plastic surgeon, and between 1877 and 1884 he served as a surgeon and professor of surgery at the New York Hospital, attending surgeon to St. Luke's Hospital, and the New York Babies Hospital, as well as consulting surgeo to the Hospital for the Ruptured and Crippled, and professor of surgery to the Post-Graduate School and Hospital in New York City.

During this time, he would spend summers travelling, and he amassed a large collection of Native American artifacts and archeological materials. In 1927, he founded the Abbe Museum of Native American artifacts in the Abbe Museum in Acadia National Park, Maine.

In 1904, after corresponding with Professor and Madame Curie, he visited their laboratories in Paris. Joining in their groundbreaking research. He became a friend of the Curies and in particular Marie Curie of whom he collected many photographs. He documented the production of radium and with Marie Curie he explored the medical use of radiation and x-rays.

From the Curie laboratory in Paris he brought back to the U.S. a supply of radium to use in his surgical practice in New York. Thus he became the founder of radiation therapy in the United States.
In 1904, he introduced the practice of using radiation to treat cancer and founded the science of radiation oncology.

Abbe was a vigorous opponent of the use of tobacco which he considered a cause of cancer and reported over 100 cases of smoker's cancer. In later years, at his Bar Harbor summer home, "Brook End," Abbe created a garden in whose pool floated two swans – Pierre and Marie.

Robert Abbe is also remembered for performing one of the first cholecystectomies, in 1889. He opened the duct of a 36-year-old woman with severe jaundice, removed a stone, sewed the duct closed with fine silk, and returned her to perfect health. She was still in good health when the operation was recorded, in 1893. In 1892, he introduced the use of catgut rings for for supporting the ends of intestine during anastomosis.

He died of anaemia, possibly due to his work handling radium.

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