Marchiafava, Ettore

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(b. Rome, Italy, 3 January 1847; d. Rome, 23 October 1935)

pathology, anatomy.

Marchiafava was the son of Anna Vercelli and Francesco Marchiafava. He began his career at a time of great social and political upheaval. In the scientific world polemics raged—such as those between Bufalini and Tommasini on the ultimate cause of disease— over the direction that science should take in light of the many major discoveries then being made.

The great prevalence of communicable diseases, especially malaria and tuberculosis, exerted a strong influence in determining Marchiafava’s line of research. After obtaining a degree at the University of Rome in 1869, he went for a short period to Berlin, where Koch was making progress in the study of tuberculosis. The young scientist returned to Italy with a strong interest in bacteriology and parasitology.

In 1872 Marchiafava was nominated assistant to the professor of pathological anatomy at the University of Rome; he became associate professor in 1881 and full professor in 1883. After his official retirement in 1922 he continued his research and writing in the department he had helped organize.

Marchiafava was not only a great pathological anatomist but also an outstanding clinician and a faithful follower of Morgagni, so that from pathological anatomy and from the data he obtained in studying corpses, he was able to make his clinical interpretations.

Marchiafava’s first research was essentially in parasitology. He spent many years studying the morphology and the biological cycle of the malarial parasite. He showed the modifications that the presence of amoeboid bodies causes in the erythrocytes, and demonstrated that these changes were closely related to the growth and multiplication of the parasite. This demonstration derived from the parallel study of microscopic blood data and the clinical pattern of fever peaks. The most important result of the research was Marchiafava’s discovery that malarial infection is transmitted through the blood. He spent the entire period from 1880 to 1891 in this intensive study, which enabled him to distinguish between the agent of the estivo-autumanl fever and that of the tertian and quartan fevers. As a senator, elected in 1913, and later as hygiene assessor of Rome (1918), he urged the adoption of antimalarial measures.

In 1884 Marchiafava, in collaboration with A. Celli, identified meningococcus as the etiological agent of epidemic cerebral and spinal meningitis. Another of his findings, which bears his name, was Marchiafava’s postpneumonic triad, characterized by the simultaneous presence of a meningitis infection and an endocardial ulcer, which he related to septicemia in the lungs.

His name is also remembered in the Marchiafava-Bignami syndrome, which is a special primitive alteration of nerve fibers caused by chronic alcoholism, affecting in particular the corpus callosum and the frontal commissure.

In 1911 Marchiafava described a form of chronic acquired hemolitic jaundice characterized by a hemoglobinemia with hemoglobinuria and progressive anemia, the Marchiafava-Micheli syndrome. He later conducted more detailed studies on this form of the disease, which he named hemolitic anemia with perpetual hemosiderinuria.

A pioneer in the field of cardiac pathology, Marchiafava showed the importance of coronary sclerosis in the pathogenesis of cardiac infarction and suggested the use of theobromine as a treatment for this disease. Early in his career he made other important studies that showed the bacterial nature of endocardial ulcers. He also did research in angiotic obliteration in interstitial inflammations and particularly in tuberculosis. Marchiafava was especially interested in tuberculosis and examined in detail the structural modifications occurring where the bronchi join the lungs, as well as the clinical epidemiology of the disease. On kidney pathology he studied and described glomerulonephritis related to infections such as scarlet fever.


I. Original Works. The main works of Marchiafava are Sul parasita delle febbri gravi estivo-autunnali (Rome, 1899); Sulle febbri malariche estivo-autunnali (Rome, 1892); La infezione malarica (Milan, 1903); La perniciosita della malaria (Rome, 1928); and La eredità in patologia (Turin, 1930).

II. Secondary Literature. Works about Marchiafava include G. Bompiani, “Ettore Msrchiafava,” in Pathologica, 28 (1936), 93–99; L. W. Hackett, “Prof. Ettore Marchiafava,” in Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, 29 (1936); L. Stroppiana, “Ettore Marchiafava a cento anni dalla nascit,à” in Castalia, 1 (1948), 17–18; and P. Verga, “Ettore Marchiafava,” in Riforma medica, 51 (1935), 1736–1737.

Carlo Castellani

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Marchiafava, Ettore

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