Alfredo Kanthack

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Alfredo Kanthack
Alfredo Antunes Kanthack.jpg
Born(1863-03-04)4 March 1863
Died21 December 1898(1898-12-21) (aged 35)
Nationality Brazilian
Alma mater Liverpool University
University of Cambridge,
London University
Scientific career
Fields Microbiology, Pathology, Immunology, Epidemiology
Institutions Liverpool Royal Infirmary,
St Bartholomew's Hospital, University of Cambridge

Alfredo Kanthack BA (Lond), BSc, BS, MA (Cantab), MB, MD, LRCP, FRCP, FRCS (1863-1898) was a Brazilian-born microbiologist and pathologist who worked in England. His distinguished career was cut short by his premature death at the age of 35. [1] [2]


Early life

Alfredo Antunes Kanthack was born on 4 March 1863 in Bahia, Brazil, the second son of Emilio Kanthack, and lived in Brazil until he was six years old when his father's business took the family firstly to Germany in 1869, and then to Liverpool in 1881. [1] His father subsequently returned to Brazil as British Consul at Pará in 1886. [3]


From 1871-1881 he went to school in Germany, first in Hamburg and then in Wandsbek, Lüneburg, and Gutersloh. [1]

After moving to England in 1881, aged 18, he went to Liverpool College for a few months and then in 1882 became a student at University College, Liverpool, where his academic brilliance became apparent, passing the matriculation exams for the University of London with honours. [1]

In 1887 he went to St Bartholomew's Hospital, London, to study medicine and was awarded a Gold Medal in obstetrics. [1]

In 1889 he continued his studies in Berlin under Wilhelm Krause; cellular pathologist Rudolf Virchow; and pioneering microbiologist and founder of modern bacteriology, Robert Koch, who received a Nobel Prize in 1905 for his groundbreaking research on tuberculosis. [1] His studies in Germany demonstrated his accurate observation and original thought in the field of research. [1]


Returning from Berlin in 1890 he served as Obstetric Resident at St Bartholomew's Hospital [1]

Map by Alfredo Kanthack showing the increase and decrease of Leprosy in India since 1881. Wellcome L0039112 Map showing the distribution of Leprosy in India Wellcome L0039112.jpg
Map by Alfredo Kanthack showing the increase and decrease of Leprosy in India since 1881. Wellcome L0039112

While holding this position he was appointed by the Royal College of Surgeons, Royal College of Physicians, and the Executive Committee of the National Leprosy Fund as one of the Special Commissioners to investigate the prevalence and treatment of leprosy in India. [1] [2] Among his conclusions were that direct contagion was at the most a very small factor in causing the spread of leprosy, and that compulsory segregation of lepers was not advisable. [1]

On his return from India in 1891 he matriculated at Cambridge as a Fellow Commoner of St John's College. At the same time he was appointed John Lucas Walker Student in Pathology, a scholarship given for original pathological research, under which he studied immunity. [1]

In 1892 he left Cambridge and began to practise as a physician in Liverpool. He was appointed Medical Tutor and Registrar at the Liverpool Royal Infirmary where he set up a Bacteriological Laboratory, [2] Senior Demonstrator of Bacteriology in a post specially created for him, and also Medical Tutor at University College, Liverpool. [1]

St. Bartholomew's Hospital, 1896. Kanthack is standing in white coat.
Wellcome Images St. Bartholomew's Hospital, 1896. Wellcome M0010860.jpg
St. Bartholomew's Hospital, 1896. Kanthack is standing in white coat.
Wellcome Images

In 1893 he returned to St Bartholomew's as Director of the Pathological Department in the Medical School and Hospital, Lecturer on Pathology and Bacteriology, and Curator of the Museum. [1]

In 1894 he suffered from a severe attack of typhoid fever, but in spite of this won the prestigious Royal College of Surgeons' Jacksonian Prize in 1895 for his essay The Aetiology of Tetanus and the Value of the Serum Treatment. [1]

In 1896 he acted as Deputy to Professor Charles Roy, who had been appointed to the new Chair in Pathology at Cambridge [4] but was unable to take up the post due to ill-health. This required Kanthack to travel to and from St Bartholomew's and the University. In the spring of 1897 he moved to Cambridge where he was given an honorary MA and elected a Fellow of King's. In the autumn he succeeded Roy as Professor of Pathology at the age of 34. [1]

During the autumn of 1898 the report of his research on the tsetse fly, conducted by him in conjunction with Herbert Durham and Walter Blandford Archived 2 April 2015 at the Wayback Machine , was published. This report cleared the ground for further investigation of what was then known as tsetse-fly disease, although no method of prevention or cure was yet propounded [1] His last work, in conjunction with Dr Sydney Sladen, reported on tuberculous milk. [1] [5]

Shortly before his death he recommended one of his promising students, Walter Myers, for a John Lucas Walker scholarship.

Kanthack is credited for the use of formalin as a histological fixative. [4]


He died of cancer on 21 December 1898 aged 35. After his funeral in Kings College Chapel, he was buried at Histon Road Cemetery, Cambridge. [2]


After his death his wife donated funds in his memory [6] to establish a library in the Pathology Department which still bears his name, [2] [4] and a bronze memorial plaque was placed at the entrance in Tennis Court Road. [2]

A sum of money was collected after his death to establish The Kanthack Memorial Library in the Pathological Institute of St Bartholomew's Hospital. [1] [6]

The Kanthack Medal has been awarded at Liverpool since 1900 for experimental pathology and microbiology, reflecting the importance of his work there. [7]




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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 "Kanthack, Alfredo Antunes - Biographical entry - Plarr's Lives of the Fellows Online". Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 "Histon Road Cemetery". Archived from the original on 4 April 2015. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  3. "Page 2909 - Issue 25598, 18 June 1886 - London Gazette - The Gazette". Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  4. 1 2 3 "Department of Pathology". Archived from the original on 5 February 2012. Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  5. Kanthack, A.A.; Sydney, E.; Sladen, StB. (1899). "Influence of the Milk Supply on the Spread of Tuberculosis". The Lancet. 153 (3933): 74–79. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(01)79094-0 . Retrieved 24 March 2015.
  6. 1 2 "The Kanthack Memorial Fund". British Medical Journal. 1 (1994): 689. 1899. doi:10.1136/bmj.1.1994.689-a. PMC   2462566 . PMID   20758376.
  7. "University College Liverpool: Kanthack Medal, Charles J Allen and James Herbert McNair". Retrieved 24 March 2015.