Campaign to strip Nobel  from Portuguese medical scientist

news: Campaign to strip Nobel  from Portuguese medical scientist

THE PORTUGUESE neuroscientist who pioneered the controversial lobotomy procedure could be posthumously stripped of his 1949 Nobel Prize for Medicine.

It is 69 years since the first lobotomy procedures were performed on severely mentally ill patients by the pioneering Egas Moniz around 1936.

The operation, the ethics of which were graphically illustrated in the film One Flies Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, is rarely carried out today because it can render the patient a virtual vegetable.

Portugal’s current top neurologist, Alexandre Castro Caldas, has slammed the campaign as senseless saying that it was stupid to strip the scientist of his award 40 years on.

António Egas Moniz (1874-1955) is considered the father of neurological psychosurgery. With Walter Hess, he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physiology of Medicine for the development of prefrontal leucotomy (lobotomy) as a radical therapy for extreme psychoses and mental disorders such as schizophrenia.

But he also developed the cerebral angiography, a method of making visible the blood vessels in the brain by injecting into the carotid artery dyes that are opaque to X-rays. This technique has proved to be of considerable value in the diagnosis of intracranial diseases such as brain tumours of the pituitary gland.

The operation, which has severe side effects, severs the nerve fibres between the fontal lobes, which are known to be closely associated with psychological responses, and the thalamus (a sensory impulse relay centre) forcing a transformation of abnormal thought patterns to more normal ones.

Egas Moniz himself cautioned that it was a radical procedure to be followed after all other forms of treatment had proved ineffective.

The use of lobotomies spread in the 1940s and 1950s until modern tranquillising drugs were introduced as a means of quietening agitated or stressed patients. However, Christine Johnson, campaigning on behalf of the affected families, said in the US: “How on earth can we trust in the Noble Prize Committee when they have failed to admit such a terrible error in judgement.”

Chris Graeme