A Multifaceted Pathologist- Rudolf Virchow

Dr Anuj ParkashWritten by | GENERAL

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Rudolf Virchow was an eminent pathologist and politician, widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential physicians in history. He is called  ‘Father of modern Pathology’ has contributed immensely to the field of Pathology. A man of boundless energy, he simultaneously had four careers: medical scientist, editor of several medical journals, politician, and anthropologist. Rudolf Ludwig Carl Virchow was born on October 13, 1821 in the town of Schivelbein, in the German Kingdom of Prussia. Today the town is called Świdwin and lies in Poland.

Virchow identified and named the disease leukemia and offered the best description of it available. He named the disease by combining the Greek words leukos (white) and aima (blood).

Virchow further stated that the ‘cell’ is the basic unit of the body and is detrimental in the understanding of any disease.

Even in his earliest work, he focused heavily on cells. “Every cell arises from another cell     


He published over 2000 scientific papers and books, and powerfully influenced medical practice, medical theory, and public health practices in Germany and the world. .

In 1858 he published Cellular Pathology, a groundbreaking book of 20 lectures, which laid the foundations of modern pathology and indeed of modern medical theory.

He named and was the first to catalog conditions such as embolism, thrombosis, chordoma, and ochronosis.

Rudolf Virchow is renowned for coining the terms ’embolism’ and ‘thrombosis’ and for elucidating the mechanism of pulmonary and thromboembolism.

Virchow’s node is named in his honor, following his discovery that an enlarged left supraclavicular node is a very early sign of stomach or lung cancer

Virchow named many medical and scientific terms including chromatin, parenchyma and spina bifida.

He traced the life cycle of the roundworm, trichinella spiralis, and proved the importance of meat inspection.

He invented the modern method of autopsy, which used the systematic microscopic examination of all body parts.

Virchow was the first to discover the usefulness of hair analysis in criminal investigations.

Scientific misfires.

Although he played a tremendous part in ridding medicine of unscientific practices, he also made some rather large scientific misfires.

Dismissed Darwin’s theory of evolution

Virchow opposed the theory from the beginning and never relented in his opposition. In fact, in 1877, he said the idea that man had descended from apes was an attack on society’s moral foundations

Virchow opposed the germ theory of disease

Opposition to Hand Washing

Many scientists, including Virchow, dismissed Semmelweis’s work on hand washing as rubbish.

In 1892 Virchow was awarded the British Royal Society’s Copley Medal, then the greatest prize in science-

“For his investigations in pathology, pathological anatomy, and prehistoric archaeology.”.
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Last modified: 28/06/2017

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