Horbaczewski, Jan

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Horbaczewski, Jan

(b. Zarubince, near Ternopol, Austria-Hungary [now R.S.F.S.R.]. 15 May 1854; d. Prague, Czechoslovakia, 24 May 1942)


Horbaczewski studied in Vienna and in 1883, after the University of Prague had been divided into a German and a Czech section, he became extraordinary professor of medical chemistry on the Czech medical faculty, and, a year later, full professor. He was four times dean of the medical faculty and, in 1902–1903, rector of the university. Ukrainian in origin, he retained a strong interest in the fate of his nation, part of which lived in Galicia under Austrian rule. In a last effort to save the Austro-Hungarian monarchy a multinational government was formed in 1917; in it Horbaczewski headed the newly created ministry of health but resigned in July 1918. In 1925 he was elected to the All-Ukrainian Academy of Sciences in Kiev and was also offered a teaching post, which he declined because of advanced age.

Although interested in nutrition, toxicology, and even industrial chemistry, Horbaczewski contributed mainly to the chemistry and biochemistry of uric acid. In 1882 he was the first to synthesize uric acid by heating glycine and urea at 200-230°C. As a young man he succeeded where many more experienced workers had failed, and his success was only grudgingly acknowledged—although Nature (27 [1882–1883], 49) hailed the synthesis as probably the most important involving urea ’since Wöhler prepared it from its mineral constituents.’

In a series of papers during the 1880’s and early 1890’s Horbaczewski investigated the origin of uric acid in mammals, including man. At first he found that uric acid was formed in the spleen pulp, which was treated with arterial blood. He connected leukocytosis with the formation of uric acid and was convinced that uric acid ultimately derived from the nuclei of the lymphatic elements of the spleen pulp. Then, following J. F. Miescher’s method of separating cell nuclei, he produced the first direct experimental proof that uric acid was not a constituent of protein but was part of the cell nucleus metabolism.


I. Original Works. Most of Horbaczewski’s papers appeared in Sitzungsberichte der K. Akademie der Wissenschaften in Wien, Math.-naturwiss. K1. The first synthesis of uric acid is described in 86, sec. 2 (1882), 963-964; an important paper dealing with the metabolism of purines can be found in 100, sec. 3 (1891), 78-132. His views are summarized in Zur Theorie der Harnsäurebildung (Wiesbaden, 1892). Horbaczewski also published a textbook of medical chemistry, Chemie lékařskà, 3 vols. in 4 pts. (Prague, 1904–1908).

II. Secondary Literature. See K. Kácl, “Professor Dr. Jan Horbaczewski,” in Časopis lékařü, českých, 93 (1954), 578-580, which gives an almost complete bibliography; and M. Teich, in L. Nový, ed., Dějiny exaktnich věd v český zemich (Prague, 1961), pp. 344 ff., with Russian and English summary; and “K istorii sinteza mochevoy kisloty (Ot Sheele k Gorbachevskomu)” (“The History of the Synthesis of Uric Acid [From Scheele to Horbaczewski]”), in Trudy Instituta istorii estestvoznaniya i tekhniki. Akademiya nauk SSSR, 35 (1961), 212-244, in Russia.

M. Teich