Moriz Kaposi Biography (1837-1902)


Moriz Kaposi, a Hungarian who devoted his professional life to the study of dermatology at the University of Vienna, was first to document nine previouslyunknown skin diseases. He educated a generation of distinguished academic dermatologists and laid the groundwork for subsequent researchers to study conditions such as Kaposi's sarcoma and lupus erythematosus.

Kaposi earned a medical degree in 1861 at the University of Vienna, where hestudied with the dermatologist Ferdinand von Hebra. Kaposi went to work in Hebra's clinic and qualified as a privatdocent (lecturer) with a dissertation on the effect of syphilis on the mucous membranes. Eventually, Kaposi marriedHebra's daughter. Hebra's death left Kaposi the heir apparent to the role ofthe most respected dermatologist in Vienna.

Kaposi's reputation brought students and patients from many countries. He trained dermatologists who went on to serve as chairmen of academic dermatologydepartments throughout Europe. With Hebra, Kaposi coauthored the Handbookof Diseases of the Skin, then Kaposi went on to write Pathology and Treatment of Diseases of the Skin on his own. Both texts were successful and were promptly translated into English, as were many of Kaposi's scholarly articles.

Kaposi was the first to observe nine previously undocumented skin conditionsbetween 1872 and 1887. He is best known for his discovery in 1872 of Kaposi'ssarcoma, a malignant disease of the skin and lymph nodes, marked by purplishblotches. Until the 1980s, Kaposi's sarcoma was rarely seen in the United States. When the US Centers for Disease Control recorded 26 cases of Kaposi's sarcoma in 1981, it was an important clue that helped scientists put togetherthe first clinical description of the acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). As of 1997, Kaposi's sarcoma was the most common tumor in patientswith AIDS.

Kaposi was also first to document lupus erythematosus in 1872. This autoimmune disorder was considered rare in the nineteenth century, when Kaposi and several British and American dermatologists studied it as a skin disease. Afterthe turn of the century, dermatologists traced internal symptoms to lupus andit gradually came to be seen as an illness with symptoms that might involvethe skin alone or might involve the whole body. By 1999, about two million Americans were affected by the disease, which still has no definitive cure.

Kaposi's discoveries of lesser-known conditions include impetigo herpetiformis, a rare skin infection that affects pregnant women in the third trimester,often killing the fetus. In 1876, he documented diabetic dermatitis. In one gruesome disease first noted by Kaposi, lymphodermia perniciosa, the patient'ssymptoms began with skin rash and swelling, then the skin became knobby withopen sores. The disease spread to the glands and spleen. On autopsy,the patient's spleen was enlarged fourfold, the bone marrow was filled with abnormal cells, and lungs contained nodules. Kaposi's meticulous clinical observations enabled him to identify many unusual conditions and set the standardfor subsequent research in dermatology.

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