Portugal (1991) 10,000 Escudos (front) – Portrait of Egas Moniz
Antonio Caetano de Abreu Freire Egas Moniz, (November 29, 1874 — December 13, 1955) was a Portuguese neurologist. He was the first Portuguese to receive a Nobel Prize, “for his discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy in certain psychoses”.
He was born in Avanca, Estarreja, Portugal. He was the inventor of prefrontal leucotomy which was changed to lobotomy by American surgeons Walter Freeman and James Watts, who introduced a larger severing of the neural fibres. It was used as a surgical approach to the radical treatment of several kinds of mental diseases; one of the several types of psychosurgery. For this work, Moniz received the Nobel Prize in 1949, jointly with the Swiss neurophysiologist Walter Rudolf Hess.
Moniz studied medicine in the University of Coimbra and thereafter neurology in Bordeaux and Paris, France. He returned to the University of Coimbra as Chairman of the Department of Neurology (1902), but soon left it to enter politics as a representative in the Portuguese parliament (1903-1917), as minister of Foreign Affairs (1918) and later as Ambassador to Spain, under the First Republic (1918-1919). He left politics, returned to the University of Lisbon, where, from 1921 to 1944, he was professor of Neurology. In 1927 he developed cerebral angiography, the technique of using x-rays to visualize arteries and veins that are transiently opacified with the injection of a high density agent. This procedure would allow physicians to map blood vessels in and around the brain, permitting the diagnosis of several kinds of neurological disorders, such as tumors and arteriovenous malformations. He received the Oslo Prize for this discovery. The method is widely used today for the diagnosis and treatment of vascular diseases in the brain.
In 1936, Egas Moniz and his associate Almeida Lima developed for the first time a surgical technique to interrupt the nerve fibers which connect the thalamus (a relay for sensory information coming into the brain) to the prefrontal cortex (already known at the time as a brain structure involved in higher intellectual functions of the brain, and in emotions, as well). His technique was widely used around the world in the next decade, and Moniz received many honours and international recognition, culminating with the Nobel Prize.
His work also attracted controversy and moral concerns. His surgical approach (leucotomy) was modified in the US by Walter Freeman to lobotomy, a much cruder procedure, who used this technique indiscriminately. Derivatives of leucotomy are still performed today in Great Britain and the USA, for the treatment of psychiatric disorders in well selected patients. In Russia, a related technique is currently used for the treatment of chronic drug addiction in desperate volunteers, after other methods had actually had any success in dealing with those severe cases.
Dr. Moniz was shot in 1939 by a psychiatric patient. He survived and recovered completely. The patient gave vague reasons for the shooting saying he was unsatisfied with the dose of a drug Dr. Moniz had prescribed. Dr. Moniz died in 1955, in Lisbon, Portugal, of natural causes.
His former country house became a museum where one can see his art collection. It can be visited in Avanca, in the north of Portugal