Novembre Dicembre 2021

Nephrology and nephrologists in Italy between the two World Wars


The First World War was a turning point for medicine worldwide and the following 20 years brought many important innovations. Kidney studies in Italy were part of this general trend. In this contribution, all the papers relating to kidney physiology, pathology and therapeutics produced by Italian scientists in the years between the two World Wars are retrieved and examined. The authors who produced strictly nephrological articles are also singled out and their activity described. This research retrieved 638 articles dealing with kidneys and published by Italian scientists over the period described. The topics covered were up-to-date, and the level was consistent with that of foreign contemporaries. Among the authors, a group of young scientists particularly dedicated to the study of the kidney emerges. Most of them would subsequently be among the founders of the Italian Society of Nephrology and leaders of Italian nephrology.

Keywords: history, nephrology, Italy, scientists, World Wars


World War I was a turning point for medicine. Giorgio Cosmacini, doctor and historian of medicine, in his book “War and Medicine” defines war as a “paradoxical” source of progress from a medical point of view [1]. The need to treat a huge number of soldiers wounded and/or suffering from serious and new pathologies forced doctors to seek new, previously unknown, answers to deal with new emergency situations. The results of this research had a tremendous impact on world medicine in the years following the conflict.

The Italian doctors, especially the younger ones, who found themselves serving in war zones also benefited from those experiences and from contacts with colleagues in the allied armies. The clinical and research approach changed, both in terms of timing and methods. Kidney diseases occupied a prominent position among war-related morbidities. For example, since the first months of the conflict, there had been reports of an apparently new type of “nephritis”: the “trench nephritis” or war nephritis.  

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