Comment by Edward Shorter

Thudichum: Father of Neurochemistry by Barry Blackwell

Edward Shorters comment

I’ve now had a chance to read your very interesting and learned essay on Thudichum, who seems to have been a bit of an odd duck, and it’s apparent that you see yourself more as a “Drabkinite” than a Thudichumite, to coin a horrible term.  Is Thudichum the “father of brain chemistry”?  A couple of points:

1. The belief that psychiatric illness stemmed from biological disorders of the brain was common in his day and not at all an original idea of his.

2.  He did undertake a number of studies of brain chemistry, although it is not clear from your account exactly what he found out. My recollection is that, by boiling a number of brains, he found that some had more phosphorus (or whatever) than others.  I don’t mean to be flippant but here I am stuck in Madrid, with no library access, and no resource other than my memory to what Thudichum actually discovered.  However, if you intend to keep his memory alive, maybe you should tell us.

3. More importantly, he did not have a “school” and his work evidently had zero impact.  My belief is that the era of brain chemistry truly originates with Bernard Brody and his lab at NIH, in the 1950s, made possible with the discovery of the fluorospectroscope.  Before that, the main discoveries were in the PNS, and brain chemistry itself lay largely fallow.  Certainly Thudichum had no impact on any of this as no one had ever heard of him.

4.  T Thudichum’s main interests seem to have been general biochemistry rather than the brain itself, and I suppose one might call him “an influential early biochemist,” but not really much more than that.  Hoppe-Seyler was a big name, and that he considered Thudichum a fool or a charlatan should set alarm bells ringing.  WTF, as we say.


Edward Shorter

September 17, 2015