The neuro-biological program of Paul A. Weiss (1898-1989) in the 1940's


Elisabeth-Ney-Str. 1, 48147 Muenster, Germany


The talk will roughly sketch the program of genetic neurology as proposed by the Austrian-American neural developmental biologist Paul A. Weiss (1898-1989) in the 1940's whilst he worked as a Professor of Zoology at the University of Chicago. Based on his experiments on nerve reinnervation which were done in Austrian and German research institutes from 1924 onward, he wanted to develop a joint research project on nerve regeneration which focused on the functional aspects of neural recovery and traumatic nerve injuries in 1941.

The main objective was to investigate the peripheral nerve restoration from the morphological and functional aspects involved. Among others, Weiss recommended a conference on neurobiology, a comprehensive bibliography, and the teamwork of experts working on related issues, like for instance histologists, neurophysiologists, neurosurgeons, immunologists and biochemists. However, his ambitious project failed because the Division of Medical Sciences of the National Research Council (NRC) refused to support it. In 1944, Weiss again tried to establish that research program at the University of Chicago and applied for financial fundings to the Rockefeller Foundation. In his conception genetic neurology designated a discipline devoted to the causal analysis of the development of the nervous system, including the neural basis of behavior. To conduct the experimental work, the methods of experimental embryology should be combined with standard techniques of histology, electrophysiology, biophysics, and biochemistry. One by-product should be a new area for graduated studies which could also serve to bridge biology and medicine. Since the Rockefeller Foundation thought of such a research program as one that comes nearer to the interests of the medical sciences division than to biology, it denied to support Weiss' biological research program. With the help of Ross G. Harrison (NRC), Weiss finally succeeded with his research program, although he had to reduce the broad scope as well as the financial budget.

Here the short chapter of neuro-biology after the War research will be discussed whereby it will be concentrated on the crucial relationship between biology and medicine during this period.


Panel 8C   (Search Machine)
Friday, 17 September 1999

The Neurosciences and Psychiatry: Crossing the Boundaries

Joint Congress of the European Association for the History of Psychiatry (EAHP), the European Club for the History of Neurology (ECHN), and the International Society for the History of the Neurosciences (ISHN)

Zurich and Lausanne, Switzerland, 13-18 September 1999