Famous Polish Scientists

A few Polish scientists and their contributions to the world of medical science

Some of the significant facts in the medical science and practice in Poland may be best revealed by the accomplishments and published works of particular individuals, for example:

Witelon [Vitelo, Witeliusz]

(1230–1314) the first officially published medical doctor in Poland, author of a ten-volume Perspectiva who in Volume III covered optics and diseases of the eye in a most innovative and comprehensive scientifically way of his time, and which was later used by Mikołaj Kopernik and Leonardo da Vinci.

Mikołaj Kopernik [Nicolaus Copernicus]

(1473–1543) besides being a world-class astronomer responsible for “stopping the Sun and moving the Earth,” he was known to his contemporaries as the most prominent and modern medical doctor in Central and Eastern Europe, considered by many to be the second Aesclepios, who relied strictly on scientific approach to patient treatment and drug formulation.


Copernicus_Study in PL

Nicolaus Copernicus is the face of promotional campaign of the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education Ready, Study, Go! Poland

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Ludwik Maurycy Hirszfeld

(1814 – 1876) professor of anatomy, author of the Anatomy of the Human Body, one of the best detailed, descriptive anatomy textbooks in 19th-century Europe. He gained great acclaim for his atlas of anatomy published in France, Neurologie ou description et iconographie du systeme nerveux et des organs des sens de l’homme, avec leur mode de preparation, and became a laureate of the Parisian Academy of Sciences.

Adolf Abraham Beck

(1863 – 1942) conducted research in neurology, physiology of blood pressure and circulation, urology, and digestion. His pioneering work in electrophysiology of the brain led to the discovery of the electroencephalogram described by him in Determining Brain and Spinal Cord Localizations.

Maria Skłodowska-Curie

(1867 – 1934) eminent physicist and chemist who received two Nobel Prizes; the first one jointly with P. Curie and A. H. Becquerel for radiation research, and the second one individually for her discovery of polonium and radium. During World War I she organized 20 mobile diagnostics units equipped with x-ray machines that helped with diagnosing 10,000 wounded soldiers. Later she established 220 x-ray clinics and trained their personnel that aided over 3 million French war veterans. In 1912 she helped found and equip the first Radiology Research Institute in Warsaw.

Ludwik Hirszfeld

(1884 – 1954) surgeon, serologist, bacteriologist, epidemiologist, and immunologist who together with E. van Dungern laid the foundation for the science of blood groups naming them — 0, A, B, and AB — and who also discovered the causes for serological conflicts and the principles of blood type hereditability. He established the Polish Bacteriological Society, and through his research contributed to the creation of cytoserology that focuses on the examination of cellular antigenic properties.

Józef Struś [Josephus Strutius]

(1510 – 1568) the only Polish physician who during the Renaissance gained international fame for his ground-breaking work on the physiology and pathology of blood circulation, and the role of pulse in the diagnostic process, thoroughly described in his Sphygmicae artis iam mille ducentos annos perditae et desideratae Libri V, that was later used by William Harvey. He was regarded as the first to introduce the concept of sphygmography due to his use of graphic representations of pulse.

Jan Jonston

(1603 – 1675) author of treatises on the theoretical problems in medicine and the applications of science to medical practice in Idea universae medicinae practicae.

Jędrzej Śniadecki

(1768 – 1838) was the first in the world to identify the method for treating rickets with sunlight exposure. Also, based on his study of clinical death he published a textbook on resuscitation and reanimation methods with the use of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation, tracheotomy, and electric stimulation to revive the heart and lungs. His breakthrough work The Theory of Organic Beings covered metabolism and its chemistry by explaining the role of a fixed group of elements necessary for the formation of organic matter and for sustaining life functions.

Karol Marcinkowski

(1800 – 1846) accomplished physician and patriot who was also a dedicated social activist. He worked on bringing closer together the Polish land owners, entrepreneurs, and the bourgeoisie in the framework of the concept of organic work, a movement that caught on in Wielkopolska thanks to his efforts. He created the Scientific Assistance Society in Poznań, and initiated the creation of the Polish Bazaar as a means of promoting entrepreneurial and economic growth of Polish citizens in Wielkopolska. As an excellent physician he was highly respected for his work as both a surgeon and an obstetrician in Poland, also recognized internationally for his research and work on cholera and presented with a gold medal by the French Academy of Science.

Robert Remak

(1815 – 1865) made discoveries in neurology, histology, and embryology. After his microscope observations of nerve fibers, he was the first to describe the axon and to prove that the nerve fibers of the autonomic system do not have the myelin sheath called Remak fibers. After his discovery of the autonomic nerve fibers and their function they were named the Remak’s ganglia. He discovered and described the direct (amitotic) cell division and its processes now referred to as the Remak scheme. In his research on cell division and differentiation he identified the ectoderm, mesoderm, and endoderm in the vertebrate embryos.

Henryk Fryderyk Hoyer

(1834 – 1907) eminent histologist who opened the first histological laboratory in Poland, and who explained the details of the connective tissue, mucous membranes, bone marrow, and spleen; an embryologist who wrote A Brief Outline of the Origin and Development of the Human Body; and physician who discovered the arterio-venous anastomoses described in On Direct Connections Between Arteries and Veins.

Marceli Wilhelm Nencki

(1847 – 1901) chemist and physiologist who conducted research on the biochemistry of bacteria, uric acid, oxidation processes in organisms, and urea synthesis in the human liver. He contributed to the identification of the composition of hemin, and helped identify the relationship between chlorophyll in plants and hemoglobin in animal organisms. He is credited with creating the foundation for the biochemistry of microorganisms.

Heliodor Święcicki

( 1854 – 1923) generous philanthropist and civic activist, surgeon, obstetrician, and gynecologist deeply devoted to the medical and social welfare of the underprivileged. He initiated the creation of the social care nursing services in Poznań, and also worked tirelessly on behalf of the poor fostering their education through the a science library, and through the charitable activities of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul. Through his involvement in the Poznań Society of the Friends of Science he championed many causes supporting the education and professional growth of the Polish intellectuals, scientists, medical practitioners, and the emerging student population. A prolific researcher and philosopher of medicine whose Treatise on the Aesthetics of Medicine to this day offers the best model of a modern physician’s approach towards this profession. Professor Święcicki directed the process of forming the Poznań University, became its first president in 1919, and was reelected to this post six times.

Antoni Tomasz Jurasz

(1882 – 1961) accomplished surgeon who created new surgical techniques and treatment protocols for cholelithiasis, purulent peritonitis, tumors and other esophageal diseases, and for the Basedow disease; and he also improved the surgical treatment protocols for pancreatic cysts and cardio-spasms. During World War II he served as the dean of the Polish School of Medicine in Edinburgh that educated over 200 Polish physicians in exile, and later was the director of the Department of Surgery and the head of the Polish Hospital in Edinburgh.

Janusz Zeyland

(1896 – 1944) physician and researcher in pathology and bacteriology, a pediatrician specializing in infectious diseases and epidemiology. His research conducted in Paris on the efficacy and safety of the newest methods in anti-tubercular prophylactics through the development and application of TB vaccine, also called BCG vaccine, helped save hundreds in France and in Poland. In Paris, Professor Zeyland was the recipient of the Pennetier Prize for his pioneering work on introducing the TB vaccine in pediatric patients. In Poland he is credited with opening the Central Tuberculosis Laboratory and the first-in-Poland children’s clinical ward for TB patients. He was killed by the Nazis at a Warsaw hospital during the Warsaw Uprising.

Franciszek Raszeja

(1896 – 1941) physician and teaching professor specializing in orthopedics who between 1932 and 1939 headed the Clinical Orthopedic Hospital in Poznań. Professor Raszeja was a co-founder of the Polish Orthopedic and Traumatology Society. He lost his life shot by the Nazis while tending to a patient at a home in the Warsaw ghetto.

Wiktor Marian Dega

(1896 – 1995) physician specializing in orthopedics and orthopedic surgery who introduced many innovative surgical techniques to this field. Besides orthopedic surgery, he researched and taught exercise and therapeutic exercise, and in 1960 established the first-in-the-world Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine at the Poznań Medical Academy. In 1961 the European Chapter of WHO recognized his program of comprehensive rehabilitation at each stage of recovery as a standard model for others to follow. In 1966 he received from the International Society of Rehabilitation the esteemed Albert Lasker award — the highest honor bestowed worldwide in the area of rehabilitation.