Friedrich Wegener

Friedrich Wegener (1907-1990)

Friedrich Wegener (1907-1990) was a German pathologist

Wegener described the histological findings of three cases of granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA) in 1936 and 1939.

Wegener’s affiliation with the condition was popularized in papers by Ringertz (1947); Johnsson (1948) and Churg (1954).

However his eponymous association with the auto-immune vasculitis was rescinded following revelations of his close association with the Nazi Party during World War II, came to light.


Biography

  • Born 7 April 1907, Varel, Germany
  • 1927-1932 Medical student in Munich and Kiel
  • 1931 – German champion in Schleuderball
  • 1932 – Member of the Sturmabteilung (Braunhemden or’brown-shirts’), the paramilitary storm troopers of the early Nazi movement
  • 1933 – Assistant at the Pathological Institute, University of Kiel under Prof Martin Staemmler (1890–1974) an ardent supporter of the Nazi regime
  • 1934 – MD thesis entitled ‘Testicular Tumour’
  • 1935 – Assistant at the Pathological Institute at Breslau University under Prof Martin Staemmler.
  • 1938 – German medical corps, SA-Sanitäts-Obersturmführer (lieutenant colonel)
  • 1939 – Military pathologist, Lodz (renamed Litzmannstadt in occupation). Members of his office conducted research on embolism, injecting oxygen into the bloodstream of some prisoners and selecting victims to be killed in hospitals and concentration camps. There are no data to prove or disprove the active participation of Wegener in such experiments/activities. Systematic murder of the inmates of the Lodz ghetto was undertaken from 1941 to 1944 in the nearby death camp at Chelmno. Of the 250,000 inmates imprisoned in the Lodz ghetto in 1940, less than 1000 survived.
  • 1944 – On Polish institute for the Prosecution of German War Crimes (IPN) wanted list as ‘Wegner (sic) – Director of the Pathological Institute, Lodz‘. The file was forwarded to the United Nations War Crimes Commission (UNWCC). Wegener never faced trial or charges.
  • 1947 – Wegener underwent de-nazification. Witnesses testified to his honourable behaviour during the Nazi years and was rehabilitated and allowed to practise medicine in postwar Germany.
  • 1948 – Appeared on the central list of war criminals and security suspects (Central Registry of War Criminals and Security Suspects, 1948:I).
  • 1966-1969 Professor of dissection, anatomy and histology – Lübeck Medical Academy
  • 1976 – ‘Doctor Honoris Causae’, medical school of Lübeck
  • 1989 – Inducted as ‘Master Clinician’ of the American College of Chest Physicians
  • Died 9 July 1990, Lübeck

Medical Eponyms

Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA)

The eponym ‘Wegener granulomatosis’ has been replaced with the term ‘Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (GPA)‘. This transition was in part to achieve nomenclature symmetry with Microscopic Polyangiitis (MPA) and Eosinophilic granulomatosis with polyangiitis (EGPA, Churg-Strauss); and to remove any historical association with Friedrich Wegener following revelations of his association with the Nazi Party in World War II


Controversies

  • 1989 – The American College of Chest Physicians (ACCP) recognised Wegener as a ‘Master Clinician’. However, in 2000 following revelations about his association with the Nazi Party, the ACCP rescinded the prize and joined the campaign to rename the eponymous clinical condition as GPA
  • 2006 – Woywodt and Matteson publish on Wegener’s granulmatosis (Lancet, 2006) and record in detail the significant historical review undertaken to connect Wegener with potential war crimes (Rheumatology, 2006). They conclude: “The facts we have uncovered do not prove Dr Friedrich Wegener guilty of war crimes. However, the evidence suggests that Dr Wegener was, at least at some point of his career, a follower of the Nazi regime…his mentor Martin Staemmler, was an ardent supporter of the racial hygiene…he (Wegener) worked in close proximity to the genocide machinery in Lodz…our data raise serious concerns about Dr Wegener’s professional conduct
  • 2010 – The American College of Rheumatology, American Society of Nephrology, and the European League against Rheumatism recommended a shift away from eponyms, including Wegener’s granulomatosis and proposed the alternative name of Granulomatosis with polyangiitis

Notable Quotables

This disease was on the verge of being discovered. Somebody had to do it

1990, Otorhinolaryngoly

Wegener was dismissive of his 1936/1939 studies, stating they contained “…too much vasculitis and not enough granuloma“. [1990, Otorhinolaryngoly]


Major Publications


References

  • DeRemee RA. Friedrich Wegener and the nature of fame. Adv Exp Med Biol. 1993;336:1-4. [PMID 8296594]
  • Wiesel E. Without conscience. N Engl J Med 2005;352:1511-1513
  • Woywodt A, Haubitz M, Haller H, Matteson EL. Wegener’s granulomatosis. Lancet. 2006;367(9519):1362-1366. [PMID 16631915]
  • Woywodt A, Matteson EL. Wegener’s granulomatosis – probing the untold past of the man behind the eponym. Rheumatology. 2006;45(10):1303-1306. [PMID 16887845]
  • Rosen MJ. Dr. Friedrich Wegener, the ACCP, and History. Chest. 2007 Sep;132(3):739-41. [PMID 17873183]
  • Feder BJ. A Nazi Past Casts a Pall on Name of a Disease. NY Times Jan 22 2008.
  • Falk RJ et al. Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener’s): an alternative name for Wegener’s granulomatosis. Arthritis Rheum. 2011 Apr;63(4):863-4. [PMID 21374588]
  • Bachmeyer C, Halioua B. “Granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener’s)” for “Wegener granulomatosis”: dermatology journals should also adopt the alternative name. JAMA Dermatol. 2013 May;149(5):526-7. [PMID 23677076]
  • Lubitz MG. Granulomatosis With Polyangiitis – A Moral Impetus for Change. JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surg. 2018 Feb 1;144(2):101. [PMID 29121164]

eponymictionary CTA

eponym

the person behind the name

Dr Callum MacLean MBChB. | LinkedIn |

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.