The discovery of Nissl stain, a histological
The History of the
approaching the main topic of the research, it is necessary to take a look back
to the history of the disease discovery. The information about the life story
of Alois Alzheimer may provide a
clearer understanding of the long journey towards the current state of the
researches, considering the phenomenon of Alzheimer’s disease.
Alois Alzheimer was born on June 14, 1864 in small Marktbreit town near Würzburg.
He was a son of a royal notary in the Kingdom of Bavaria who lost his wife
after the birth of their first child and married her sister afterwards. Alois
was the elder child among six other children from the second marriage.
Alois Alzheimer finished an elementary school in Marktbreit and later a
secondary school in Aschaffenburg. Later on, in a period from 1883 to 1885, he
studied at the colleges in Berlin, Freiburg, and Wtirzburg. During the first
academic years he was known for a passion to anatomy and a great interest to
working with microscopes. Upon the completion of the dissertation in anatomy,
Alois graduated from Wtirzburg with honors and obtained a diploma in medicine.
At that time, Alzheimer was showing little to no interest to psychiatry.
Nevertheless, in the 19th century some wealthy families in Germany
had a unique method to treat relatives with mental issues: young doctors were
appointed to travel with the patients. Alzheimer received one of such offers
and departed for 5 month with the mentally ill female patient in 1888. Yet, the
identity of the patient as well as her illness remains unknown, as no data
considering the journey was saved.
Once Alzheimer returned from the journey at the age of 24, he was
employed as an assistant in the Community Hospital for Mental and Epileptic
Patients in Frankfurt am Main. There he was working with the director of the
institution Emil Sioli for 15 years and earned a great amount of experience to
become a versatile clinician. In addition to that, Alois was still developing
his interest to anatomy. It was greatly strengthened by Franz Nissl, who
attended the hospital to work with Sioli. Nissl is known for the discovery of
Nissl stain, a histological staining technique that is still used in modern medicine.
Alzheimer and Nissl became close friends and Nissl inspired the young
doctor to go on with the researches along with the work at the clinic.
Therefore, Alzheimer admired the advice and studied different issues as brain
atrophy, arteriosclerosis, and other dementia diseases.
In 1895, Alzheimer married Cecilia Geisenheimer. As she was a wealthy person,
Alzheimer was finally able to become financially independent and run his own psychiatric
clinic, where he could dedicate himself to the research. Nissl left Frankfurt
in 1896 due to an invitation by Emil Kraepelin from the University Hospital of
Heidelberg, where Kraepelin was a director from 1890 to 1903. Nissl moved there
as he would obtain more freedom and better provision for his research. Nevertheless,
Nissl and Alzheimer remained close friends and continued communicating for a
Though Alzheimer lost connection to his friend, his leaving opened some
opportunities to the young doctor. After Nissl’s departure, Alois was promoted
to the first assistant and deputy director of the Frankfurt Hospital in 1896.
It was a major step towards the completion of the Alzheimer’s goal of becoming
a director of a psychiatric hospital.
Next years were successful not only in the professional field, but also
the private life. His family life was prosperous as his wife gave birth to
three children from 1895 to 1900.
Unfortunately, in 1901 Alzheimer suffered a loss of his beloved wife. In
order to cope with the grief, he dedicated himself to the work with even higher
intensity. During that period, he inspected a new female patient Auguste D. He
had no clue that following clinical research of that patient would bring him to
the discovery that would make Alzheimer famous worldwide.
Later, in 1902, Alzheimer moved to Heidelberg Hospital and a few months
later to Munich. Sioli promised to provide all information regarding the fate
of former patients. In 1906, he received data about the illness and death of