Biography of Karl Thiersch
Karl Thiersch was born in Munich where he studied medicine and received his medical doctorate in 1843. He subsequently continued his studies at the universities of Vienna, Berlin, and Paris, returning to Munich in 1847. During the campaign against Denmark in the 2nd Schleswig-Holstein War in 1850, Thiersch served as a military surgeon. His surgical education was greatly influenced by the surgeon to the general staff, Georg Friedrich Ludwig Stromeyer (1804-1876).
The war with Denmark interrupted his work as prosector of pathological anatomy in Munich, to which he had been appointed in 1848 and held until 1854. He was habilitated in 1849 and in 1853 became professor extraordinary.
In 1854 Thiersch moved to Erlangen to become professor of surgery. After thirteen years, in 1867, he moved on to the same position at Leipzig, remaining in that chair until his death in 1895.
At the age of almost fifty years, Thiersch was consulting physician general with the 12th royal Saxonian army corps during the Franco-Prussian war. Upon his return he became an ardent advocate of Lister’s antiseptic technique, and he was the first surgeon on the Continent to introduce this method as a standard procedure. He improved Lister’s method by replacing carbolic acid with salicylic acid.
Karl Thiersch was important both as a teacher and an innovative surgeon. He made contributions to epithelial cancer in 1865, wound healing in 1867, phosphorous necrosis of the jaw in 1867, and introduced split-skin grafting in 1874.
Thiersch disproved Virchow’s theory of the connective tissue origin of carcinoma, but so great was the latter’s authority that it was only after two further confirmatory papers by Heinrich Wilhelm Gottfried Waldeyer (Wilhelm von Waldeyer-Hartz, 1836-1921) that it was accepted.
On the occasion of his 70th birthday Thiersch was made an honorary citizen of Leipzig. Thiersch was described as a benign and friendly person with a great sense of humour.