Robert Remake has had no luck in life if we are the ones who see the glass half empty. Being Jewish and having to compete with one of the greats like Rudolf Virchow did not benefit him at all in his attempt to become a university professor.
But despite his denial of his desire to be a professor in the highest German institution of his time, his great discoveries in the field of embryology, physiology and neurology make Remake a figure for nothing obvious.
The life of this Pole of Jewish origin in German society in the 19th century was not easy, but it cannot be said that his history has been erased, and here we will know it through a brief biography of Robert Remake.
Brief biography of Robert Remak
Neurologist, physiologist, embryologist, historian and mycologist are the five words that can define Remake in the professional field. Their findings dramatically changed the perception of the formation of living things, especially vertebrates., In addition to describing the structure of the nervous system and how cells originated from other pre-existing cells. The list of his contributions is long, and this is not surprising since, being repeatedly denied the opportunity to be a university professor, he devoted all of his time to research.
Robert Remake was born in Posen, Germany (now Poznań, Poland) from July 26 to 30, 1815.. He was born into a family of Orthodox Jews strongly identified with Polish culture, being the oldest of five children.
He spent the first years of his education at home, but then went to high school in the city of Poznań. Despite his interest in studying and being an excellent student, he had to interrupt his studies for a year because his very fragile health deteriorated and he had to rest. Fortunately, he recovered and later studied at the Polish High School in Poznan.
At 18, he left for Berlin study at the University of the German capital. 19th-century Berlin was already pointing to ways such as the cultural, scientific and philosophical center that it would end up being in a few years. It was the scientific mecca for any German citizen interested in pursuing a university education, such as the case of Remake, who would study medicine in such a sensitive city.
To college he was fortunate to have as professors great figures of German science of the time, such as the physiologist Johannes Müller and the naturalist CG Ehrenberg. The two professors were very close to the technique of microscopy, inviting Remake to start studying tissue and cell samples on his own, both to satisfy his curiosity and to broaden his knowledge. He therefore began to study this discipline even before having completed his medical degree.
The first thing he studied with this instrument was the ganglion cells and nerve fibers of invertebrates.. From his discoveries, he will publish his first work on the structure of nervous tissue in 1836, being only 21 years old.
In 1838, he published his thesis Observationes anatomicae et microscopicae de systematis nervosi structura, a text in which he demonstrated the existence of a cylindrical structure which he called “primitive band”. This same band had been called the axis of the cylinder by the anatomist Johannes Evangelista Purkinje. With its Remake microscope too he observed almond-shaped nerve fibers in the sympathetic nervous system, which he called the “organic nervous system”..
From the life of Remake, not only their great and important scientific discoveries stand out after turning 30. He also carried out an important task of giving prestige to his mother tongue, translating his thesis into Polish himself, helping to establish a new medical nomenclature in this Slavic language. Although widely spoken, it was a very minority language compared to German, considered an important language of scientific dissemination.
First professional years
After completing their training, Robert Remake went to Johannes Müller’s lab to work there. He also offered private lessons in microscopy and immersed himself in clinical practice. With these works he made a living because, although his intellect and his early discoveries were impressive, his Jewish status prevented him from being a university professor in a very anti-Semitic Germany, even in the most cultural and scientific circles. moderate.
Given the religious and ethnic discrimination of 19th-century Germany, Remake considered moving to Paris.. This idea was strongly reflected, however, by naturalist Alexander von Humboldt convinced him to stay and continue his research. Thanks to this, in 1839 he discovered ganglion cells in the right atrium of the frog, giving life to the neurogenic doctrine of cardiac contraction. It will later find nerve fibers in the lung, larynx, pharynx, and tongue, as well as in the bladder wall.
In 1840 he focused on the study of the so-called organic nervous system, both histologically and physiologically. A year later, he published his results in the form of articles, composing the Encyclopädische Wörterbuch der medicinischen Wissenschaften (Encyclopedic Dictionary of Medical Sciences).
He will publish in the “Medizinische Zeitung his study Über die Entstehung der Blutkörperchen” (On the formation of blood cells), in which he talked about the division and multiplication of blood cells. Basically in this article he shows his rejection of the theory still prevalent in his day that cells could be generated from a more or less homogeneous elemental substance.
The 1840s seemed like a time of socio-political change in Prussia, the same year that Frederick William IV occupied the throne and with him greater tolerance towards Jews, or in principle that was the idea. Taking advantage of this, Robert Remake, with the help of the Minister of Education and appearing before the same monarch, asked him to name him “Dozent” so that he could teach at the university. Unfortunately, he did not approve his request.
Robert remak he was forced to continue in the field of research, this time working as an assistant in the laboratory of Johann Lucas Schönlein. In this laboratory, Remake made clinical research, collected in the book “Diagnostische und pathogenetische Untersuchungen” (Diagnostics and pathological studies, 1845). He also continued his work on embryology and the structure of the nervous system.
Still frustrated that he couldn’t be a college professor, he knew how to channel his anger and rage into something productive and, as a result, discovered that the deepest germ layer of the embryo has its origin in the epithelium. Cell division in the embryo. origin of the primitive muscle bundles and discovered the fibrils of the cylindrical axis.
Fortunately, his luck changed in 1847, because in that year he was appointed professor at the University of Berlin, With the support of Schönlein and Humboldt. Although it is a smaller place, that did not prevent it from generating a major media impact, since Robert Remake was the first Jew to occupy such a place in such an institution. Thanks to this, he acquired great fame within the scientific community. Best of all, it would be the same year he married Feodore Meyer.
Although his dream of being a university professor was realized, but not entirely, he did not leave the field of research. He continued his studies in medicine, particularly in the germ leaf and vertebrate development. In 1850 he published the first part of his studies on these two subjects, as well as the possibility of continuously dividing fertilized chicken eggs.
Advances in cell theory
In 1851 he discovered that the organs on which the senses, such as the eyes, ears, skin and the like, are formed from the ectoderm. A year later, he published in Müller’s archives his own doctrine on the cell phone division, noting that cells multiply by cleavage of their nucleus, and not from an original protoplasm. It is, in fact, one of the great scientific advances of modern times, as it resulted in cell theory as we know it today.
With this cell theory, Remake refuted Theodor Schwann on the exogenous origin of cells. Remake, as we know it today, believed that animal and plant cells have a single intracellular origin, and that all animal cells arise from embryonic cells by progressive division. in 1852 reaffirm all of this by posting an article in which he argued that cells, out of necessity, should come from other cells, Either by division or by division.
In 1855 he completed his embryological work by publishing “Untersuchungen über die Entwickelung der Wirbelthiere” (Research on the development of vertebrates). It would simplify the germ leaf theory and be presented in the terms “ectoderm”, “mesoderm” and “endoderm”. It was that same year that he published his first work in neurology, Über methodische Electrisierung gelähmter Muskeln (On the methodical electrification of paralyzed muscles).
In 1856 he severed ties with the university since he was refused the post of professor of pathological anatomy. Already quite tired of the fact that, despite being an excellent researcher and a great student in this same institution, almost nothing was allowed, he decided to continue clinical practice and disseminate, publishing Galvanotherapie der Nerven und Muskelnkrakheiten , (Galvanotherapy in diseases of nerves and muscles) which he devoted to Humboldt.
However, in 1859 he was again associated with the university, as he was appointed assistant professor of the institution. That didn’t stop him from feeling frustrated and disillusioned with academia and, coupled with his fragile health, Robert Remake he would end up dying a few years later, on August 29, 1865 at the age of 50. He died while in rest care and the cause of death was likely general sepsis secondary to diabetes.
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