Rudolf Virchow (1821-1902) is considered the most prominent German physician of the 19th century, his long and successful career reflecting the ascendancy of German medicine after 1840. Virchow pioneered the modern concept of pathological processes by his application of the cell theory to explain the effects of disease in the organs and tissues of the body. He emphasized that diseases arose, not in organs or tissues in general, but primarily in their individual cells. Moreover, he campaigned vigorously for social reforms and contributed to the development of anthropology as a modern science. He worked vigorously to make the methods of natural science supreme in the medical sciences.
Virchow envisaged medical progress from three main sources: clinical observations, including the examination of the patient with the aid of physicochemical methods; animal experimentation to test specific aetiologies and study certain drug effects; and pathological anatomy, especially at the microscopic level. Life, he insisted, was merely the sum of physical and chemical actions and essentially the expression of cell activity. In 1848, he founded the journal of Archiv für Pathologische Anatome und für Klinische Medizin. His 1858 work,Die Cellularpathologie, revolutionised the concepts of the nature of disease and the means by which it could be studied.
In 1859 Virchow undertook a journey to Norway, invited by the Norwegian government, in order to investigate an epidemic of lepra (Hansen’s disease) on the western coast of Norway, probably the Bergen area. His contribution to leprosy work is his description of the lepra cell.
International Journal of Leprosy, Centennial Festskrift edition, Vol 41, No 2. 1973.
Die Cellularpathologie. 1858