Medical sciences

Chemical scientists were cooperating with physiologists, pharmacologists and pharmacists. Tartu became a place where courageous steps were taken in the development of the methodical aspect of science, based on sound decisions in the development of the university. Young, yet inquisitive, scientists found their way to the new university. This fostered the emergence of experimental sciences, as for example the foundation of a separate chair of physiology in 1820. New branches of science were born in the laboratories of Tartu on the basis of new experimental scientific methods, concentrating mainly on physiology and pharmacology.

The Tartu School of Physiology, founded by Friedrich Bidder (1810-1894), contributed discoveries concerning the nervous system and the physiology of digestion, as well as concerning methodology. Together with Carl Ernst Heinrich Schmidt (1822-1894), a professor of chemistry, Bidder indicated the need for the optimal ratio of proteins, fats and carbohydrates in nutrition in 1852. Hermann Adolf Alexander Schmidt (1831-1894), a professor of physiology, investigated the process of blood coagulation, laying the foundations for the creation of anti-coagulation systems and the development of blood transfusion.

Rudolf Richard Buchheim’s (1820-1879) laboratory of experimental pharmacology was the first, and for 20 years (Buccheim lived in Tartu from 1847 to 1867) the only one of its kind in the world. The composition of medicaments and their effect on experimental animals was studied using methods of experimental physiology which were improved in Tartu at that time. Buchheim introduced the classification of medicaments based on their chemical effects and pharmaco-dynamical characteristics, which is valid up to the present day. Johann Ernst Oswald Schmiedberg’s (1838-1921) scientific school of pharmacology, was born in Tartu, extended to Strasbourg, and began to influence corresponding developments all over the world.

The cooperation of pharmacology and experimental physiology created a strong cumulative effect in Tartu, which gave impetus to the birth of new, scientific pharmacology, of which the best known representative in Tartu was Georg Dragendorff (1836-1898). A new quality in pharmacy emerged, based on the scientifically based production of medicines.

Medical scientists of Tartu contributed to the development of the teaching of evolution. The so called ‘pre-Darwin evolutionists’ in Tartu represented embryology. They participated in the formulation of the biogenetic rule and contributed to cell theory, as well as to the development of genetics.

One of the founders of the school was Karl Friedrich Burdach (1776-1847), whose most famous student from the Tartu period was Karl Ernst von Baer. Baer’s name has remained in the history of embryology due to his discovery of the mammalian ovum in Königsberg in 1828. He is claimed to be one of the people who had a major influence on Darwin in regard to embryology. Martin Heinrich Rathke (1793-1860), together with Baer and Christian Heinrich von Pander (1794-1865), who all had connections with Tartu University, are considered the founders of embryology as a branch of science. August Rauber (1841-1917), a professor of anatomy in Tartu, is honoured as the founder of experimental embryology.

The world-famous psychiatrist Emil Wilhelm Magnus George Kraepelin (1856-1926), who worked in Tartu University from 1886 to 1891, became, amongst other things (for example, during his Tartu period, he diagnosed a new disease, schizophrenia), a pioneer in experimental methods of psychiatry. Kraepelin was interested in the effect of medicaments on the psyche and developed pharmacological research. While studying the effect of alcohol, Kraepelin, together with Gustav Piers von Bunge, became one of the advocates of the medical temperance movement.

In certain areas, Estonian patriotism finds reluctant approval from other writers of science history in the world. For example, it is believed in Tartu that it was Nikolai Lunin (1853-1937) who, in 1880, published the research which laid the foundation for the science of vitamins. As matters stand, the ‘official’ history of medicine credits Casimir Funk and Frederick Hopkins (the latter coined the term ‘vitamins’ in the 1920s) with the honour of outlining the theory of vitamins. The latter did, however, mention Lunin in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech. Indeed, Funk and Hopkins, in contrast with Lunin and other members of the school of his teacher Gustav Piers von Bunge, ventured beyond the statement that ‘there must be something’ and indicated the concrete compounds.

A somewhat similar fate befell Werner Maximilian Friedrich Zoege von Manteuffel (1857–1926), who was the first to use rubber gloves while operating. This innovation is attributed to William Halsted from the USA. However, not only did Mannteuffel pioneer this innovation in Europe but, more importantly, doctors in Tartu used rubber gloves in order to protect patients, whereas American doctors had in mind the protection of the doctor.

There are some branches of science founded by people who have studied in Tartu or who come from Tartu but who are better known in other parts of the world than in their home country. For example, the natural sciences in Estonia (theoretical biology) was strongly coloured by a teleological undertone, the belief in the purposefulness of the development. At the beginning of the 20th century, this tendency was met with certain reservations. Nowadays the teleological undertone of natural sciences has been re-discovered with enthusiasm. Hermann von Keyersling (1880–1946), who was of Estonian origin, may be associated with the similar ideology of vitalism. Karl Ernst von Baer’s opposition to Darwin’s idea of natural selection entailed, besides teleology, the idea of altruism, which is increasingly underlined in today’s theoretical biology and implies an ecological way of thinking and, speaking in broader terms, the basis of contemporary nature protection (although Baer’s may well have been a negative reaction to the brutal social-Darwinist pressure on small languages and cultures in the Russian empire).

It is important to mention Gustav Piers von Bunge (1844–1920), who left Tartu as docent of physiological chemistry to become a professor in Basel, who gave strong individuality to the school of physiology there, and who is remembered nowadays as the founder of the teaching of neovitalism. The Nobel Prize winner Wilhelm Ostwald was undoubtedly an outstanding chemist but it is his books on monism that probably find a greater number of readers nowadays.

Jakob Johann von Üxküll (1864-1944) was the founder of zoosemiotics and a pioneer in biocybernetics.

It is interesting to note that Estonia, which boasts semiotics as one of its representative sciences, has today become an important centre for researching the works of the above-named scientists.

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