- A dictionary of medical eponyms

Johann Georg Wirsung

Born  1589
Died  1643

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German physician, born July 3, 1589, Augsburg; died 1643, Padua.

Biography of Johann Georg Wirsung

Johann Georg Wirsung was Johann Vesling’s (1598-1649) prosector at Padua for many years. He discovered the duct on March 1642 during the dissection of Zuane Viaro della Badia, a man about 30 years old who was found guilty of murder and executed by hanging in the piazza del Vin, March 1, 1642.

Two students were present at the dissection, Thomas Bartholin (1616-1680) of Denmark, and Moritz Hoffman (1622-1698) of Germany. Five years after Wirsung died, Hoffmann claimed to have discovered the duct in a turkey rooster in September 1641, when he was 19 years old. However, his claim was never substantiated. Hoffmann later became professor of anatomy and botany in Altdorf. Wirsung's discovery is recorded on a single rare copper plate, as follows: “Next came the finding of the pancreatic duct in Vesling’s dissecting room at Padua by his prosector, Georg Wirsung (1642).”

In a work published in 1644, Andrea Argoli (1570-1657), professor of mathematics at the University of Padua from 1632 to 1657, cites an expert anatomist at Padua, John George Verden, who carried out experiments designed to measure the volume of arterial blood emitted from each contraction of the left ventricle in small and large dogs. Verden has later been identified as Johann Georg Wirsung.

Wirsung was murdered while entering his house at night in 1643, probably as a result of a quarrel over who was the first to discover the duct. The killer was a Belgian student named Giacomo Cambier.


  • Alfred Max Schirmer:
    Beitrag zur Geschichte und Anatomie des Pankreas.
    Dissertation, University of Basel, 1893.
  • A. Gamba, G. Ongaro:
    Anatomes peritissimus: Johann Georg Wirsung's unknown experiments on the circulation of the blood. Physis: rivista internazionale di storia della scienza, Firenze, 1993, 30 (2-3): 231-242.
  • Richard Carter:
    Assassination of Johann Georg Wirsung (1589-1643); Mysterious Medical Murder in Renaissance Padua.
    World Journal of Surgery, New York, March 1998, 22 (3): 324-326.
  • J. M. Howard, W. Hess, W. Traverso:
    Johann Georg Wirsung (1589-1643) and the pancreatic duct: the prosector of Padua, Italy.
    Journal of the American College of Surgeons, August 1998, 187 (2):201-211.
  • Sanajay A. Pai:
    Our Medical Past. Death and the doctor.
    Canadian Medical Association Journal, December 10, 2002, 167 (12): 1377-1378.
  • Giancarlo Flati, Åke Andrén-Sandberg:
    Wirsung and Santorini: The Men Behind the Ducts.
    Pancreatology, 2003, 2 (1): 4-11.

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