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Education And Debate

“Where name and image meet”—the argument for “adrenaline”

BMJ 2000; 320 doi: (Published 19 February 2000) Cite this as: BMJ 2000;320:506

Some interesting historical details

Editor - I should like to enlarge on an incidental aspect of
Aronson's article "Where name and image meet"- the argument for
"adrenaline" (1), in which the author states, "The name suprarenin was
coined by Otto von Fürth of Strasbourg…..". Certainly, Fürth undertook
the relevant research on adrenaline at Strasbourg University a century
ago, but Aronson's formulation of the sentence gives a misleading identity
to this great Austrian medical chemist. A full appraisal (in German) of
Fürth's life was published by Lieben in 1948 (2) in a homage to his former
chief, but some biographical facts and comments might perhaps be of
general interest.

Otto von Fürth was born in 1867 in Strakonitz, Bohemia. In 1887 he entered
Vienna University to study medicine and chemistry and on graduation worked
under Franz Hofmeister, who held the Chair of Pharmacology at Prague and
is considered one of the founders of modern physiological chemistry. On
the appointment of Hofmeister to Strasbourg University in 1896, Fürth
joined him there as lecturer, engaging in research on muscle proteins and
on the identification and determination of adrenaline. In 1905 Fürth
returned to Vienna University to become head of the Chemistry Section of
the Physiology Institute, attracting many research students from Europe
and overseas. Finally, in 1929, he was appointed to the Chair of Medical
Chemistry in Vienna, in succession to Emil Fromm. Lieben pays tribute (2)
to the prodigious output of research from the department (about 300
publications on all aspects of biochemistry) over the next eight to nine
years, reckoning that Fürth was one of the last scientific researchers
with a universal command of this entire field.

After the Anschluss of Austria in March 1938 and only half a year short of
his retirement, Fürth was dismissed from his university position on the
basis of his Jewish origins, a fate shared by over 50% of the senior staff
of the Vienna Medical Faculty (3). Fürth died in June 1938 following a
stroke, thus mercifully spared from witnessing tragedy strike his own
family and the wider Jewish community.

Otto von Fürth was the revered chief and mentor of my mother, Regina
Kapeller-Adler. Fürth's staff benefited from his exemplary teaching and
research skills and, moreover, from his enormous personal interest in
their welfare. Despite the hive of activity in the department, recreation
time was found for picnics and also for poetry readings which Fürth
organised himself. Fürth's concern manifested itself most touchingly when
he immediately postponed a lecture tour of the USA on hearing that my
mother was dangerously ill after childbirth, rescheduling his programme
with all the attendant inconvenience only after having assured himself of
her full recovery. With the growing threat of National Socialism, he
attempted to implement his world-wide network of scientific connections in
pleading with overseas researchers to provide a haven for his Jewish
members of staff. In my mother's case, research work encouraged by Fürth
proved life-saving for our family after the Anschluss; her chemical
pregnancy test, based on the detection of histidine excretion in the urine
as from an early stage of pregnancy (4), proved of interest to Professor
F.A.E. Crew, who invited her to work at the Department of Animal Genetics
at Edinburgh University. Thus, in 1939, she and my father, Ernst Adler,
who was one of the 50 Austrian doctors admitted to practise in Britain
after the Anschluss, gratefully received hospitality in Scotland, enabling
them to rebuild their lives, both professional and personal, in a
welcoming and stimulating atmosphere.

Liselotte Adler-Kastner
Visiting Scholar

School of Humanities,
Oxford Brookes University,
Oxford OX3 0BP

1) Aronson JK. "Where name and image meet"- the argument for
"adrenaline". BMJ 2000; 320: 506 - 509 (19 February).

2) Lieben F. Otto von Fürth - Ein Gedenkblatt. Wien Klin Wschr
1948; 60: 377 - 379.

3) Enthebungen an der medizinischen Fakultät 1938-1945 (Professoren
und Dozenten). Wien Klin Wschr 1998; 110: 115 - 120.

4) Kapeller-Adler R. Über eine neue chemische
Schwangerschaftsreaktion. Klin Wschr (1934); 13: 21 - 22.

Competing interests: No competing interests

31 March 2000
Liselotte Adler-Kastner