Novembre Dicembre 2020 - Le nostre storie: vite di nefrologi

The origin of the modern Italian nephrology at the dawn of the 20th century


The author singled out the first decade of the 20th century as the time in which the renewal of academic medicine in post-unification Italy was concluded, while the changes that would be induced by the following war had not yet started. A bibliographic research relating to this period was undertaken with the aim of investigating the number and the quality of the studies on kidneys published by Italian scientists. A total of 176 publications of Italian scientists dealing with kidney diseases or physiology was retrieved, 10.8% of which was published on foreign journals. The analysis of the topics treated shows that they were up to date and comparable with the contemporary studies across Europe. Moreover, the issues raised remained of interest throughout the following decades up to our day. Top Italian researchers were fairly cited, especially if they published on international journals. While at the time the state of other organs was mainly assessed by examining physical signs and symptoms, kidney studies required laboratory facilities. This limitation meant that kidney scholars usually belonged to well established medical faculties. From these schools, a few figures stood out among the others for the importance of their studies, both physiological and clinical in nature. The same figures also gave birth to the major Italian schools of internal medicine from which, half a century later, originated the Italian Society of Nephrology. The findings of this research support the conclusion that the basis of modern nephrology can be traced back to that decade.

Keywords: nephrology, history, Italy, clinical schools.


Nephrology is the branch of medical science that deals with healthy and diseased kidneys. This term was apparently coined only recently, in 1945, by the British doctor Arnold Osman (1894-1972). The Italian Society of Nephrology was the first among other national associations to use this denomination. It was founded in 1957, later than other Italian specialties scientific societies [1]. In the few years since its formal foundation, Italian nephrology has become well known and its members have attained top world positions. In spite of its success, it is not clear when and how the seeds of this science in its present form were planted in Italy. 

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