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Edward Trautner was born in 1886 in Germany and received his medical degree in his native country. He left Germany in the 1930s and after a short stay in Spain and England, he arrived in the 1940s as a refugee to Australia where he was invited by Professor Douglas Wright, head of the joint Department of Physiology and Pharmacology at the University of Melbourne, to join his faculty.

In 1949, John Cade published his report in the Medical Journal of Australia on “Lithium salts in maniacal excitement” that lead to the re-introduction of lithium therapy in psychiatry. Yet, the clinical use of the new treatment entailed difficulties because of lithium’s toxicity that was to the extent that Cade himself prohibited the use of the substance in his own hospital. Recognizing the importance of rendering lithium feasible for clinical use, Trautner with his junior associates that included Charles Noack, Douglas Coats and Samuel Gershon, conducted a series of four studies during the 1950s that set the foundation for lithium therapy.

In the first of these reports, published in 1951, it was established that lithium, if administered in a dose in which plasma lithium levels are kept within 0.6 mEql. to 1.2 mEql. is a safe and effective treatment in manic depressive patients. Plasma level determinations in the study were carried out with the flame photometer, an instrument constructed by Victor Wynn at the University, just a year before. From the other three reports, one published in 1955, showed   increase of lithium retention in mania and of lithium excretion when mania is resolved; another, published in 1956, revealed possible use of lithium in maintaining manic depressive patients in remission; and the third, published in 1957 dealt with the treatment of lithium toxicity.

Without Trautner’s contributions implementation of lithium treatment would have been considerably delayed. Treutner died in Queensland in 1979 at age 93.

Coats DA, Trautner EM, Gershon S. The treatment of lithium poisoning.  Austr Ann Med 1957; 6: 11-5

Gershon S, Trautner EM. The treatment of shock-dependency by pharmacological agents. Med J Austr 1956; 43: 783-7

Noack D, Trautner EM. The lithium treatment of maniacal psychosis. Med J Austr 1951; 2: 218-22

Trautner EM, Morris R, Noack CH, Gershon S. The excretion and retention of ingested lithium and its effect on ionic balance of man. Med J Austr 1955; 2: 20 – 91.

Samuel  Gershon
August 1, 2013