Finsen, Neils Ryberg

Finsen, Neils Ryberg
SUBJECT AREA: Medical technology
b. 15 December 1860 Thorshavn, Faeroe Islands
d. 24 September 1904 Copenhagen, Denmark
Icelandic physician, investigator and pioneer of actinotherapy.
Following his early education in Reykjavik, Finsen moved to Copenhagen and obtained his medical degree in 1891. Appointed as a demonstrator in anatomy at the University of Copenhagen, he soon abandoned a career in academic medicine, preferring the sunlit environment of outdoor life. He was soon studying the nature of light-induced inflammation and proceeded to identify the radiation in the blue-violet and ultraviolet (actinic) parts of the solar spectrum as being particularly responsible. By 1893 he had discovered the beneficial effect of red light on the lesions of smallpox and in 1894 he put forward his conclusion that light possessed a direct therapeutic quality. In 1895 he amplified this work with the treatment of lupus vulgaris (tuberculosis of the skin) using a carbon-arc source suitably filtered to expose the tissues to high concentrations of ultraviolet rays. Extensions of this form of therapy were applied in a number of other conditions until superseded by the development of serology, chemotherapy and antibiotic drugs.
In his final years, afflicted with a cardiac condition possibly related to the endemic hydatid disease of Iceland, he carried out an important self-study on salt and water metabolism, laying the foundations for the therapeutic concept of low fluid and low salt intake therapy.
Principal Honours and Distinctions
Nobel Prize for Medicine or Physiology 1903 (the first such award).
1894. "Les rayons chimiques et la variole", La Semaine médicale.
1895. "The red light treatment of smallpox", British Medical Journal.
Further Reading Kruif, 1932, Men Against Death, New York.

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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