Egas Moniz

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António Caetano de Abreu Freire Egas Moniz

António Caetano de Abreu Freire Egas Moniz (November 29, 1874 - December 13, 1955) was a Portuguese physician and neurologist. He was born in Avanca, Portugal. He was the inventor of prefrontal leucotomy (also known as frontal lobotomy) as a surgical approach to the radical treatment of several kinds of mental diseases; one of the several types of psychosurgery. For this work, Moniz received the Nobel Prize in 1949, jointly with the Swiss neurophysiologist Walter Rudolf Hess.

Moniz studied medicine in the University of Coimbra and Neurology in Bordeaux and Paris, France. He returned to the University of Coimbra as Chairman of the Department of Neurology (1902), but soon left it to enter politics as a representative in the Portuguese parliament (1903-1917), as minister of Foreign Affairs (1918) and later as Ambassador to Spain, under the First Republic (1918-1919). He left politics, returned to the University of Lisbon, where, from 1921 to 1944, he was professor of Neurology. In 1927, he developed the technique of contrasted x-ray cerebral arteriography to diagnose several kinds of nervous diseases, such as tumors and arteriovenous malformations.

In 1936, Egas Moniz and his associate Almeida Lima developed for the first time a surgical technique to interrupt the nerve fibers which connect the thalamus (a relay for sensory information coming into the brain) to the prefrontal cortex (already known at the time as a brain structure involved in higher intellectual functions of the brain, and in emotions, as well). His technique was widely used around the world in the next decade, and Moniz received many honours and international recognition, culminating with the Nobel Prize.

Prefrontal leucotomy subsequently fell into disrepute, after its widespread use was shown to have created far more damage than benefit, and because of its irreversable nature. Drug treatments for mental illnesses are now the treatment of choice for mental illness.

Dr. Moniz became an invalid due to a gunshot to his spine, fired by one of his patients. He died in 1955, in Lisbon, Portugal.

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