Aldred Scott Warthin

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Aldred Scott Warthin
Born(1866-10-21)October 21, 1866
DiedMay 23, 1931(1931-05-23) (aged 64)
Alma materIndiana University; University of Michigan Medical School
Known forResearch on cancer heritability, syphilis, etc.

Aldred Scott Warthin (October 21, 1866 − May 23, 1931) was an American pathologist whose research laid the foundation for understanding the heritability of certain cancers. He has been described as "the father of cancer genetics."[1]

Early life and education[edit]

He was born October 21, 1866, in Greensburg, Indiana. His parents were Edward Mason Warthin and Eliza Margaret (Weist) Warthin.[2] As a young man he studied piano and earned a teacher's diploma from the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in 1877.[1] In 1888 he received an A.B. in science from Indiana University.[3]

He then entered the University of Michigan Medical School, earning an M.A. in 1890, an M.D. in 1891 and a Ph.D. in 1893. He did postgraduate study in Vienna and Freiburg, then joined the faculty at the University of Michigan, where he remained for the rest of his career.


In 1892 he was appointed a demonstrator in internal medicine at the University of Michigan.[2] In 1895 he took charge of the pathology laboratory, and in 1903 he was named laboratory director and professor of pathology, positions he held until his death in 1931. He also served as chair of the pathology department for most of that time. He taught more than 3,000 medical students, who described him as "the greatest living teacher of pathology".[4]

He was a master of the American College of Physicians and served as its first vice president.[1] He also served as editor of the Annals of Clinical Medicine (now the Annals of Internal Medicine).[5]

In 1930 he published a book "The Creed of a Biologist: A Biologic Philosophy of Life.[6] It he argues in favor of the theory, popular at the time, of the genetic transmission of acquired traits and extols the importance of using Eugenics for the protection and improvement of the race. The book ends with the following postscript: "CREDO :: I BELIEVE IN THE LAW * IN THE IMMORTALITY OF THE GERM PLASM AND THE CREATIVE * PROGRESSIVE EVOLUTION OF LIFE * IN THE VARIABILITY OF THE VALUE OF THE GERM PLASM THROUGH HEREDITY & ENVIRONMENT * IN THE TRANSMISSION OF ACQUIRED CHARACTERS * AND IN THE CONSCIOUS IMPROVEMENT OF THE RACE THROUGH THE LAWS OF VOLITIVE EUGENICS * I BELIEVE THAT THE AIM OF THE INDIVIDUAL LIFE IS THE PROTECTION * IMPROVEMENT AND CONTINUATION OF THE IMMORTAL GERM PLASM * ....."


In 1895, a young seamstress of his acquaintance told him about her family's long history of cancer deaths.[7] Intrigued, he researched her family's history, searching death records and administering questionnaires, and found multiple cases of cancer. He followed the family, which he called "family G", for decades, and in 1913 he published their history in the Archives of Internal Medicine.[8][9] His article was one of the first to make the case that cancer was heritable in humans, and the medical pedigree of family G (which was later determined to suffer from hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer or Lynch Syndrome) is one of the longest and most detailed cancer genealogies in the world.[10] By 1913 he had worked up the pedigrees of 29 cancer-susceptible families. He found one family in which 27 of the 144 descendants of a cancer patient also had cancer. He located several sets of identical twins that developed identical cancers in mirror-image sites. He became convinced that both susceptibility and immunity to cancer could be inherited.[11] He began his genetic studies before Gregor Mendel's principles of genetics became widely known. It took many decades before the heritability of cancer was finally accepted by the medical community, partly through the research of Henry T. Lynch.[1]

Although he is best known today for his groundbreaking research on the heritability of cancer, during his lifetime he was better known for other things. He studied the pathology of syphilis for 20 years and became the world's leading authority on the subject.[10] He and his research associate developed the Warthin-Starry stain still used to demonstrate the presence of syphilis spirochetes.[11] Some thought his most important work was his study of diseases of the reticuloendothelial system.[1] He studied the effects of the chemical weapon mustard gas, about which he co-wrote a book in 1919.[12]

Personal life[edit]

In 1900 he married another physician, Katherine Angell (born 1869), and they had four children.[13] She died in 1940.[14] His hobbies included golf, raising flowers (especially phlox), and collecting artistic portrayals of death, about which he wrote a scholarly monograph, The Physician of the Dance of Death.[15] He died suddenly of asthma on May 23, 1931.[16] He is buried in South Park Cemetery, Greensburg, Indiana.[14]


  • Adenolymphoma of the parotid gland, or papillary cystadenoma lymphomatosum, is better known as "Warthin's tumor"; he described two cases in 1929.[17][18]
  • One of the pulmonary signs of pericarditis is named "Warthin's sound".[1]
  • The Warthin-Starry stain, a silver-based stain for spirochetes, is named for him.[19][20]
  • He discovered a species of snail that was named in his honor.[21]
  • In 1927 his students and colleagues honored him with a Festschrift named Contributions to Medical Science.[4]
  • Warthin-Finkeldey cell
  • His collected papers are preserved in the Bentley Historical Library at the University of Michigan.[3]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Lynch, Henry T. (November–December 1985). "Aldred Scott Warthin, M.D., Ph.D. (1866-1931)". Classics in Oncology. 35 (6): 345–347. doi:10.3322/canjclin.35.6.345.
  2. ^ a b "Bio:Aldred Scott Warthin". Faculty History Project. University of Michigan. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  3. ^ a b "Aldred Scott Warthin Papers, 1893-1947". Bentley Historical Library. University of Michigan. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  4. ^ a b "Dr. Warthin honored". Faculty History Project. University of Michigan. Retrieved 30 November 2013.
  5. ^ Huth, Edward J.; Case, Kathleen (July 2, 2002). "Annals of Internal Medicine at Age 75: Reflections on the Past 25 Years". Annals of Internal Medicine. 137 (1): 34–45. doi:10.7326/0003-4819-137-1-200207020-00010. PMID 12093243.
  6. ^ Warthin, Alfred (February 1930). The Creed of a Biologist. New York: Paul B. Hoeber, Inc.
  7. ^ Kalb, Claudia (December 10, 2006). "Peering into the future". Newsweek. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  8. ^ Warthin, Aldred Scott (November 1913). "Heredity with reference to carcinoma: as shown by the study of the cases examined in the pathological laboratory of the University of Michigan, 1895-1913". Archives of Internal Medicine. 12: 546–555. doi:10.1001/archinte.1913.00070050063006.
  9. ^ Warthin, Aldred Scott (June 1925). "The Further Study of a Cancer Family". Journal of Cancer Research. 9 (2): 279.
  10. ^ a b Tobin, James (Fall 2009). "The Rounded Life of Aldred Warthin". Medicine at Michigan. 11 (3). Archived from the original on 2013-12-03.
  11. ^ a b Davenport, Horace Willard (1999). Not Just Any Medical School: The Science, Practice, and Teaching of Medicine at the University of Michigan, 1850-1941. University of Michigan Press. p. 125. ISBN 0-472-11076-4.
  12. ^ Warthin, Aldred Scott; Weller, Carl Vernon (1919). The medical aspects of mustard gas poisoning. St. Louis: C. V. Mosby Company.
  13. ^ "Dr. Warthin, noted pathologist, dies". Owosso Argus-Press. May 23, 1931. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  14. ^ a b "Aldred Scott Warthin". find-a-grave. Retrieved 5 December 2013.
  15. ^ staff (September 5, 1931). "Book review: The Physician of the Dance of Death: A Historical Study of the Evolution of the Dance of Death Mythus in Art.". Journal of the American Medical Association. 97 (10): 731. doi:10.1001/jama.1931.02730100055042.
  16. ^ "DR. A.S. WARTHIN, PATHOLOGIST, DIES; Head of Michigan University Pathological Laboratories Since 1903. ON FACULTY FOR 40 YEARS Ex-President of Association of American Physicians—Had Done Much Writing". New York Times. May 24, 1931. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  17. ^ Warthin, Aldred Scott (July 1929). "Papillary Cyst Adenoma Lymphomatosum: A Rare Teratoid of the Parotid Region". Journal of Cancer Research. 13 (2): 116.
  18. ^ Witt, Robert L. (ed.) (2005). "Chapter 9 "Benign tumors, cysts, and tumor-like conditions of the salivary glands". Salivary Gland Diseases: Surgical and Medical Management. New York: Thieme Medical Publishers. p. 123. ISBN 1-58890-414-8.
  19. ^ "Aldred S Warthin". The Free Online Medical Dictionary. Retrieved 29 November 2013.
  20. ^ Warthin, A. S., and A. C. Starry. "A more rapid and improved method of demonstrating spirochaetes in tissues." Am J Syph 4 (1920): 97-103.
  21. ^ Kesling, Robert Vernon (January 1, 1957). The ontogeny and ecology of Welleria aftonensis Warthin, a Middle Devonian ostracod from the Gravel Point formation of Michigan. Museum of Paleontology, University of Michigan.