Sunday, 26.01.2020

Barry Blackwell: Thudichum: “Father of Neurochemistry”
Collated by Olaf Fjetland

Hector Warnes' Final Comment


I read the excellent short biography written by Barry on Johann Ludwig Wilhelm Thudichum (or John Louis William).  We don't really know the  contents of Thudichum´s scientific contributions which were numbered at 80 including a few books (treatises on the  pathology of urine and  on gall-stones: their chemistry, pathology, and treatment; a manual of chemical physiology, including its points of contact with pathology; a treatise on the chemical constitution of the brain; a paper on the progress of medical chemistry comprising its application to physiology;  and others (Thudichum 1884, 1896).

Thudichum spent most of his professional life in London, much of the time working at the St Thomas Hospital and its Medical School.  He was a disciple of Justus von Liebig in Giessen and of Wilhelm Bunsen in Heidelberg, both outstanding researchers in the field of biological chemistry. Bunsen was the inventor of spectrography, a technique Thudichum used in his work.  He also had a private consulting room as a rhinologist and otologist.  At first, he investigated the prevalence of trichinosis, later the effects of cholera on the brain and diagnosed cases of hematoporphyria.

It appears that neither Barry nor Edward Shorter have read any of Thudichum’s books or scientific papers.  Thudichum may have even isolated lactobacteria or polyphenoles causing the ermentation of wine; he wrote a book on the subject. Barry wrote like a historian (based on Drabkin’s biography of Thudichum), but neither Barry nor Shorter are in a position to affirm that there was "a lack of any substantive findings" in Thudichum’s research.

Wikipedia has many separata on this scientist´s achievements and honors and there seem to be general agreement that he was “a pioneer in British biochemistry and a founder of brain chemistry."  Among the substances he isolated from the brain were cephalin, sphingomyelin, galactose, lactic acid and sphingosine. Therefore, although Barry was right in his appreciation of Thudichum's contribution to science, I am afraid Barry did not present the scientific foundations of his allegations about Thudichum’s place in the history of science.

Finally, I am not certain who really discovered phosphorus (Greek for light bearer, glow or phosphorescent) which is essential for life. PO4 and phosphate are components of DNA and phospholipids are found in all cell membranes.  It was first discovered by Hennig Brand in 1669 (an alchemist) and not, as Barry states, by Johann Hensing.



Thudichum JLW. Treatise on the Chemical Constitution of the Brain. London: Bailliére, Tindall and Cox; 1884.


Thudichum JLW. Progress of medical chemistry comprising its application to physiology, pathology and the practice of medicine. London: Bailliére, Tindall and Cox;1896.



January 4, 2018