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History of Nephrology

This section was possible thanks to the precious collaboration of the International Association for the History of Nephrology (IAHN)

Introduction by Prof. Athanasios Diamandopoulos
Nephrologist/Archaeologist, IAHN President

The establishment of a permanent section on the History of Nephrology in the ERA-EDTA’s website is a very happy event. It came about as the culmination of the efforts of both the ERA-EDTA’s Council and the International Association for the History of Nephrology’s (IAHN) Board to open a window into the history of our profession for both the amateur and the professional historian amongst the workers in today’s renal doctors’ world. The apparent satisfaction of all of us who worked towards this culmination is only natural. The, less self-congratulating, question we have to answer is “What for?”, that is, what are the short and long term goals of such a section? There are several answers to this question, all of them repeatedly used by the historians of sciences. We may be justified in presenting them once again - in bold - and commenting on them, as the ERA-EDTA members may not be entirely familiar with them.

  1. “History is truly a witness of times gone by, the light of truth, the life of the memory” (1).  “We have come to understand that we are who we are, is also who we were” (2). These statements simplify the fundamental rationale of any historical research in any field. To put it in modern bio-research jargon, as the study of the evolution of the DNA of any living being is vital towards the understanding of its wholeness, thus the study of the evolution of nephrology from its embryonic stage to the current status is vital to fully understand where we stand nowadays. The benefit of this understanding is not limited to the usual claims of the superiority of our scientific ancestors, embellished frequently by our national pride as their cultural heirs. It also extends to a more timid approach to new discoveries. The syndrome of “I said it first” (3) by many modern scientists will be tested across the discoveries of the past, many of them forgotten, re-invented, and claiming the laurels of originality.

  2. “For images are the life of the memory, a propagation of those who have lived, a witness of times gone by...” (4). “Scientific illustrations opens a window to the mutual influence of science, art, civilisation” (5). The involvement of medical scientists in the world of arts is a very old one and until the last century hadn’t any need for apologies. Let us remember that Richard Bright, the founder of modern nephrology, was also a successful amateur painter who left us his renowned sketch-book illustrating monuments and landscapes from his visits to the Classical World and beyond. The history of nephrology is heavily reliant on relevant works of art of the past both as testimonies and as remedies to the dryness of the current technological world

  3. “The decline of civilization [and - in our view – by extension also of Nephrology] starts from the deterioration of the "Creative Minority", which eventually ceases to be creative and degenerates into merely a "Dominant Minority" (6). Toynbee argues that creative minorities deteriorate due to a worship of their "former self", by which they become prideful and fail adequately to address the next challenge they face. The author of this Introduction fears that a similar fate is awaiting the scientific establishment of the formal Western World, if it does not recognize the developments of Nephrology in the past, the present and the future of the “Alien Worlds”, e.g. Russia, Japan, China, India, Latin America etc. This danger is limited by the globalization of research, but it is still real. The IAHN takes great steps to prevent such disintegration.  Indicatively, during its previous International Congress in Ancient Olympia and Patras, Greece, 45 of the 106 authors of accepted papers were outside the formal Western World (7). Similarly in its forthcoming (2015)  International Congress in Milazzo, Italy, a Key Lecture is planed titled “The transnationalism of the Nephrological Treatises during the Middle Ages” (8).

  4. “In the few decades since nephrology became a recognized speciality of medicine, interest in its historical origins has sustained a gradual and steady growth. This is perhaps best reflected in the number of articles on the history of medicine that have begun to appear with some regularity in most of the scientific journals devoted to nephrology” (9).This proliferation of nephro-historical articles, even if it happens with a hiatus, is very encouraging. However, the goal of this new section in the ERA-EDTA’s website is not the creation of a huge army of renal historians. There other more specialised sites for such an ambition. We are aiming to attract the interest in this field of the many practitioners and researchers of nephrology who will gain an in depth experience of the past of their speciality and a sustainable cultural relief from the troubles of their everyday activities. Because, paraphrasing what has been very aptly said about Homer and his readers, “Everyone passed and was hosted into the history of nephrology’s hospitable tent. Some of them left very happy, taking with them a valuable gift from the proceedings which they would use later in all their life, copying it into their own works. Others were so attracted that they never left from its side, staying in the tent, becoming permanent pupils, servants and translators of it” (10).

Hoping that the above comments will help answer the question “What for”, we invite the readers of the articles to be published in this new section, to read, enjoy, comment on them and, why not, to submit their own historical works. As a first article of this series, we present a Timeline of the History of Nephrology (from antiquity to the 14th century AD)", thinking that “First things first” thus the scientific documents of Antiquity should proceed any more recent testimonials.


  1. Cicero, De Oratore Book II; Chapter IX, section 36, Rome, 1st cent. BC
  2. John Quincy Adams, President USA, 1767-1848
  3. Diamandopoulos Α., The use of Ancient and Medieval Greek literature for avoiding the «I said it first» research syndrome, in the Proceedings of the 1st World Congress on "Ancient Greece and the Modern World", University of Patras, Patras, Greece, Ancient Olympia, June 1 to 5, 1997
  4. Simeon Polotskii, Muscovy, 17th cent.
  5. Singer G., 1927, The Herbal in Antiquity, Journal of Hellenic Studies, vol. XCVII, p. 32
  6. Arnold J. Toynbee, A Study of History, vol. V: The Disintegrations of Civilizations, part one (Oxford University Press 1939).
  7. The History of Nephrology, New Series, no 3, Natale G. De Santo, Biagio Di Iorio, Athanasios Diamandopoulos, Guido Bellingeri, Boloslaw Rutkoweki (edts), Wichtig Editore, Medical Publishers, Milan, Italy, 2014.
  8. IX Congress of the International Association for the History of Nephrology, Dedicated to the memory of Professor Gabriel Richet, a founder of ISN Honorary Member of IAHN, Milazzo, Italy | October 22-24 | 2015, President Biagio Ricciardi,
  9. Eknoyan G., De Santo N.G., Massry S.G., On the Future of the History of Nephrology, American Journal of Nephrology. vol. 14, No. 4-6, Year 1994.
  10. Diamandopoulos A., The teaching of Medicine and Hippocrates, Proceedings of the Congress “Halcyon Days of Cypriot Nephrology”, Cyprus, 2005, p. 12 (in Greek).

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