1896. Joseph J. Babinski

Joseph Jules François Félix Babinski (1857-1932) was a French physician, one of the most famous pupils of Jean-Martin Charcot. He worked at the Hôpital de Salpêtrière in Paris between the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Even if he was born in Paris, the origin of his family Polish, since he was son of a Polish military officer Aleksander Babinski (1824–1889), who had to flee Warsaw for France due to the Russian persecutions in his country.

When he was student of medicine at the University of Paris, Babinski’s scientific value and clinical greatness were immediately recognized by Charcot, so becoming soon the favourite pupil of the founder of French neurological school. Babinski received his medical degree in 1884 with a thesis on multiple sclerosis, becoming hospital physician in 1890. When Charcot died in 1893, he left Babinski without a support in the academic world; in particular, Bouchard, a former pupil of Charcot and professor of neurology at the University of Paris, blocked his academic career. Free of teaching duties, until his retirement in 1922 he worked at the Hôpital de la Pitié, where he could have ample time to devote himself to clinical neurology. Thus, Babinski quickly became a masterful clinician, providing fundamental contributions to French neurological school. In particular, he described the neurophysiological alterations in tabes dorsalis, the Babinski-Nageotte syndrome (a complex of symptoms from lesions in postero-lateral part of pons) and he also introduced the terms ataxia and dysdiakonesia, to describe some symptoms of cerebral lesions. Furthermore, he presented some diagnostic criteria for hysteria, so evidencing the differences of this condition from other organic diseases. His studies on tumours of the spinal canal contributed to the rebirth of French neurosurgery. He was also one of the founder of the Société de neurologie de Paris, to which he was profoundly devoted. The French neurologist is now universally recognized for the eponym “Babinski’s sign” that he first described as phenomène des orteils in 1896. Finally, Babinski also provided important contributions in other fields of medicine; for example in 1900, a year before Alfred Fröhlich, he described the adiposo-genital syndrome in a case of pituitary tumour, a condition still termed Babinski-Fröhlich syndrome.

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