The Enlightenment Kidney—Nephrology in and about the Eighteenth Century


Address correspondence to: Garabed Eknoyan, MD, Department of Medicine (523-D), Baylor College of Medicine, One Baylor Plaza, Houston, TX 77030, Tel.: 713 798 4748, Fax: 713 790 0681, or e-mail:


The intellectual movement of inquiry by direct observation and inductive reasoning to acquire new knowledge matured in the Enlightenment. In medicine, personal observation as the prime mover of investigation began in anatomy, and gradually extended into studies of function, site of disease, and composition of body fluids. This led to the generation of new information on renal structure, function, and urine composition in health and to some extent in disease. Studies on the dissected, injected, and teased kidneys have left us with many of the eponymous renal structures described by Eustachio, Bellini, Malpighi, and Ferrein. Subsequent studies by Haller of the renal circulation and scrutiny of the separation of serous fluid from blood in the renal cortical glandular components established the beginnings of renal physiology. The movement to integrate chemistry into medicine championed by Boerhaave, which launched studies of urine composition in diabetes, urolithiasis, and gout led to the exploration of a chemical basis of other diseases. Albuminous precipitate in the urine of a dropsical case was described by Cotugno, but its association with kidney disease went unappreciated. Most of the new information on the kidney was communicated to and discussed in the increasing number of new scientific societies that were being formed, and transmitted to the eager members of the learned bourgeoisie of the period in the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d’Alembert.