Showing posts with label Camillo Golgi. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Camillo Golgi. Show all posts

30 May 2018

Andrea Verga - anatomist and neurologist

Professor among founding fathers of Italian psychiatry

Andrea Verga was one of the first to see how criminal behaviour could be driven by insanity
Andrea Verga was one of the first to see how criminal
behaviour could be driven by insanity
The anatomist and neurologist Andrea Verga, who was one of the first Italian doctors to carry out serious research into mental illness, was born on this day in 1811 in Treviglio in Lombardy.

Verga’s career was notable for his pioneering study of the criminally insane, for some of the first research into acrophobia - the fear of heights - which was a condition from which he suffered, and for the earliest known experiments in the therapeutic use of cannabis.

For a number of years, he held the post of Professor of Psychiatry at the Ospedale Maggiore in Milan. He also founded, in conjunction with another physician, Serafino Biffi, the Italian Archives for Nervous Disease and Mental Illness, a periodical in which research findings could be shared and discussed.

Verga also acquired an in-depth knowledge of the anatomy of the bone system and the nervous system, and was the first to identify an anomaly of the brain that occurs in only one in six people, which became known as ‘Verga’s ventricle’.

The son of a coachman, Verga was an enthusiastic student of classics whom his parents encouraged to pursue a career in the church, yet it was medicine that became his calling.  He went to the University of Pavia, graduating in 1832 and becoming assistant to Bartolomeo Panizza, whose previous students had included Italy’s first Nobel Prize winner, Camillo Golgi.

Verga was a driving force behind Milan's Provincial
Psychiatric Hospital at Mombello 
Verga spent much of his working life with sight in only one eye, the consequence, it might be said, of his failing to remember to take literally the biblical proverb ‘physician heal thyself’. During an outbreak of cholera, in which he attended many sick patients, he developed a serious eye infection, which he neglected to treat, and went blind in the affected eye.

Nonetheless, steering himself towards the field of psychiatry and mental illness, in 1843 he moved to Milan, where he worked at the private hospital of San Celso, which cared for mental patients from the city’s wealthier classes.

While working at San Celso, he is thought to have participated with other physicians in experiments on the therapeutic use of cannabis in mental health conditions. The plant had a history of medical use in a number of ancient civilisations.

In 1848, amid the chaos of the first Italian War of Independence, he became the director of the Pia Casa della Senavra, Milan’s first public mental hospital. For several years his movements came under the scrutiny of the occupying Austrians, yet in 1852 he was offered the chance to lead psychiatric research at the city’s Ospedale Maggiore.

Andrea Verga's tomb at the Monumental Cemetery in Milan
Andrea Verga's tomb at the Monumental Cemetery in Milan
There he pushed for reforms that fundamentally improved the service of medicine and surgery in Milan. With Biffi he helped construct a more accurate definition of the symptoms of mental illness and the concept of insanity, and its recognition as grounds for a different interpretation, in some cases, of criminal behaviour.

Also, along with Biffi and Cesare Castiglioni, he argued the need for a more modern mental hospital in Milan. His arguments were rewarded when Senevra was closed and replaced, in 1878, by the Provincial Psychiatric Hospital of Milan at Mombello. 

Devoted to his work throughout his life, Verga never married. He did find time to become involved in local politics, however, as a councillor and in 1876 was appointed a Senator of the Kingdom of Italy.

He died in 1895 and was buried in the Monumental Cemetery in Milan.

The Basilica of San Martino in Treviglio
The Basilica of San Martino in Treviglio
Travel tip:

The small city of Treviglio in Lombardy, where Verga was born, is about 20km (13 miles) south of Bergamo and 41km (26 miles) northeast of Milan. It developed from a fortified town in the early Middle Ages and, having been at times controlled by the French and the Spanish, became part of the Kingdom of Italy in 1860.  Its most visited attraction is the Basilica of San Martino, originally built in 1008 and reconstructed in 1482, with a Baroque façade from 1740, which is in Piazza Luciano Manara. Opposite the basilica is the historic Caffè Milano, founded in 1896, which retains the original turn-of-the century furniture and a counter in Art Nouveau style.

The bust of Andrea Verga in Largo Francesco Richini in Milan
The bust of Andrea Verga in Largo
Francesco Richini in Milan
Travel tip:

An enormous white marble bust, dedicated in 1903 to Andrea Verga, can be found in Largo Francesco Richini in the centre of Milan, opposite what was formerly the Ospedale Maggiore, which is now part of the campus of the University of Milan, created by the Milan sculptor Giulio Branca. The Ospedale Maggiore moved early in the 20th century to a vast new site not far away, opposite the university buildings on the other side, bordered by Via Francesco Sforza.

Also on this day:

1875: The birth of Giovanni Gentile, the so-called 'philosopher of Fascism' 

1924: The day tragic politician Giacomo Matteotti spoke out against Fascist thugs


21 January 2018

Camillo Golgi – neuroscientist

Nobel prize winner whose name lives on in medical science

Camillo Golgi expanded knowledge of  the human nervous system
Camillo Golgi expanded knowledge of
the human nervous system
Camillo Golgi, who is recognised as the greatest neuroscientist and biologist of his time, died on this day in 1926 in Pavia.

He was well known for his research into the central nervous system and discovering a staining technique for studying tissue, sometime called Golgi’s method, or Golgi’s staining.

In 1906, Golgi and a Spanish biologist, Santiago Ramon y Cajal, were jointly awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in recognition of their work on the structure of the nervous system.

Golgi was born in 1843 in Corteno, a village in the province of Brescia in Lombardy.

The village was later renamed Corteno Golgi in his honour.

In 1860 Golgi went to the University of Pavia to study medicine. After graduating in 1865 he worked in a hospital for the Italian army and as part of a team investigating a cholera epidemic in the area around Pavia.

He resumed his academic studies under the supervision of Cesare Lombroso, an expert in medical psychology, and wrote a thesis about mental disorders. As he became more and more interested in experimental medicine he started attending the Institute of General Pathology headed by Giulio Bizzozero, who was to influence Golgi’s research publications. They became close friends and Golgi later married his niece, Lina Aletti.

Financial pressure led Golgi to work at the Hospital for the Chronically Ill in Abbiategrasso near Milan and while he was there he set up a simple laboratory in a former hospital kitchen.

A statue within the campus of Pavia University commemorates Golgi's life and work
A statue within the campus of Pavia University
commemorates Golgi's life and work
It was in his improvised laboratory that he made his most notable discoveries. His major achievement was the development of staining technique for studying nerve tissue called the black reaction, using potassium bichromate and silver nitrate, which was more accurate than other methods and was later to become known as Golgi’s method.

In 1885 he joined the faculty of histology at the University of Pavia and then later became Professor of Histology. He also became Professor of Pathology at the San Matteo hospital.  His connection with the university is commemorated with a statue within the grounds, while a plaque marks the house in nearby Corso Strada Nuova where he lived.

He was rector of the University of Pavia for two separate periods and during the First World War he directed the military hospital, Collegio Borromeo, in Pavia.

Golgi retired in 1818 and continued his research in a private laboratory. He died on 21 January1926.

In 1900 he had been named as a Senator by King Umberto I. He received honorary doctorates from many universities and was commemorated on a stamp by the European community in 1994.

The Golgi apparatus, the Golgi tendon organ, the Golgi tendon reflex and certain nerve cells are all named after him.

The Golgi museum in Via Brescia, Corteno Golgi
The Golgi museum in Via Brescia, Corteno Golgi
Travel tip:

Corteno Golgi, a village of around 2,000 people is situated in the High Camonica Valley, about 100km (62 miles) north of Brescia in the Orobie Alps in Lombardy. It has a museum dedicated to Camillo Golgi in Via Brescia. For more information visit

The covered bridge over the Ticino river at Pavia
The covered bridge over the Ticino river at Pavia
Travel tip:

Pavia, where Golgi lived for a large part of his life, is a city in Lombardy, about 46km (30 miles) south of Milan, known for its ancient university, which was founded in 1361, and its famous Certosa, a magnificent monastery complex north of the city that dates back to 1396. A pretty covered bridge over the River Ticino leads to Borgo Ticino, where the inhabitants claim to be the true people of Pavia and are of Sabaudian origin.