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António Egas Moniz

António Egas Moniz

António Caetano de Abreu Freire Egas Moniz (29 November 1874 – 13 December 1955), known as Egas Moniz (Portuguese: [ˈɛɣɐʒ muˈniʃ]), was a Portuguese neurologist and the developer of cerebral angiography. He is regarded as one of the founders of modern psychosurgery,[2] having developed the surgical procedure leucotomy—​known better today as lobotomy—​for which he became the first Portuguese national to receive a Nobel Prize in 1949 (shared with Walter Rudolf Hess).[3]

He held academic positions, wrote many medical articles and also served in several legislative and diplomatic posts in the Portuguese government. In 1911 he became professor of neurology in Lisbon until his retirement in 1944.

António Egas Moniz
António Caetano de Abreu Freire Egas Moniz

(1874-11-29)29 November 1874
Avanca, Estarreja, Portugal
Died13 December 1955(1955-12-13)(aged 81)
Lisbon, Portugal
Alma materUniversity of Coimbra
Known forPrefrontal leucotomy, cerebral angiography
Spouse(s)Stacey Moniz (1874-1884), Elvira de Macedo Dias (1884-1955)
AwardsNobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, 1949
Scientific career
InstitutionsUniversity of Coimbra (1902); University of Lisbon (1921–1944)

Early life and training

Moniz was born in Avanca, Estarreja, Portugal, as António Caetano de Abreu Freire Egas Moniz. He attended Escola do Padre José Ramos and Colégio de S. Fiel dos Jesuítas and studied medicine at the University of Coimbra, graduating in 1899. For the next 12 years, he served as a lecturer for basic medical courses at Coimbra. In 1911, he became a neurology professor at the University of Lisbon, where he worked until his retirement in 1944.[4]


Politics was an early passion for Moniz. He supported a republican government, diverging from his family’s support for the monarchy. As a student activist, he was jailed on two separate occasions for participating in demonstrations. While serving as Dean of the Medical School at the University of Lisbon, he was arrested a third time for preventing police from settling a student-run protest.[5]

Moniz’s formal political career began when he was elected to parliament in 1900. During World War I, he was appointed the Ambassador to Spain, and afterward, he served as Minister for External Affairs, representing Portugal at the 1919 Versailles Peace Conference.[4]


Cerebral angiography

In 1926, at age 51, Moniz retired from politics and returned to medicine full-time. He hypothesized that visualizing blood vessels in the brain with radiographic means would allow for more precise localization of brain tumors. During his experiments, Moniz injected radiopaque dyes into brain arteries and took X-rays to visualize abnormalities. In his initial tests, Moniz used strontium and lithium bromide in three patients with a suspected tumor, epilepsy, and Parkinsonism, but the experiment failed and one patient died. In the next set of trials, he achieved success using 25% sodium iodide solution on three patients, developing the first cerebral angiogram.[5]

Moniz presented his findings at the Neurological Society in Paris and the French Academy of Medicine in 1927. He was the first person to successfully visualize the brain using radiopaque substances, as previous scientists had only visualized peripheral structures. He also contributed to the development of Thorotrast for use in the procedure and delivered many lectures and papers on the subject.[6] His work led to the use of angiography to detect internal carotid occlusion, as well as two Nobel Prize nominations in this area.[5]

Prefrontal leucotomy

Moniz thought that mental illness originated from abnormal neural connections in the frontal lobe. He described a “fixation of synapses,” which in mental illness, was expressed as “predominant, obsessive ideas.” Moniz also referenced the experiments of Yale physiologists John Fulton and C.F. Jacobsen, who found that removing the frontal lobes of a chimpanzee made it calmer and more cooperative. In addition, Moniz observed “changes in character and personality” among soldiers who had suffered from injuries to their frontal lobes.[7]

Moniz hypothesized that surgically removing white matter fibers from the frontal lobe would improve a patient’s mental illness. He enlisted his long-time staff member and neurosurgeon Almeida Lima to test the procedure on a group of 20 patients, mainly with schizophrenia, anxiety, and depression. The surgeries took place under general anesthesia. The first psychosurgery was performed in 1935 on a 63-year-old woman with depression, anxiety, paranoia, hallucinations, and insomnia. The patient experienced a rapid physical recovery, and two months later, a psychiatrist noted that she was calmer, less paranoid, and well oriented. In the first set of surgeries, Moniz reported a total of seven cures, seven improvements, and six unchanged cases.[4]

Moniz never performed a surgery himself, partially because of his lack of neurosurgical training but also because he suffered from severe gout that left his hands crippled.[4] Instructed by Moniz, Lima performed ten of the first twenty surgeries by injecting absolute alcohol to destroy the frontal lobe.[7] Later on, Moniz and Lima developed a new technique using a leucotome, a needle-like instrument with a retractable wire loop.[5] By rotating the wire loop, they were able to surgically separate white matter fibers.[7]

Moniz judged the results acceptable in the first 40 or so patients he treated, claiming, "Prefrontal leukotomy is a simple operation, always safe, which may prove to be an effective surgical treatment in certain cases of mental disorder."[8] He also claimed that any behavioral and personality deterioration that may occur was outweighed by reduction in the debilitating effects of the illness.[8][9] He conceded that patients who had already deteriorated from the mental illness did not benefit much. The procedure enjoyed a brief vogue, and in 1949 he received the Nobel Prize "for his discovery of the therapeutic value of leucotomy in certain psychoses."[10]

Critics accused Moniz of understating complications, providing inadequate documentation, and not following up with patients. After his initial procedures, other physicians, such as Walter Jackson Freeman II and James W. Watts, adopted a modified technique in the United States and renamed it “lobotomy.”[5]


Moniz was a prolific writer, publishing work in Portuguese literature, sexology, and two autobiographies. Upon graduating from medical school, he gained notoriety for publishing a series of controversial books, called A Vida Sexual (The Sexual Life). His other writings included biographies of Portuguese physician Pedro Hispano Portucalense and José Custódio de Faria, a monk and hypnotist. In the field of medicine, Moniz published 112 articles and 2 books on angiography alone. He also wrote on neurological war injuries, Parkinson’s disease, and clinical neurology.[5]


In 1939, Moniz was shot multiple times by a schizophrenic patient and subsequently confined to a wheelchair.[1] He continued in private practice until 1955. Moniz died from an internal hemorrhage on December 13, 1955.[5]


Since falling almost completely from use in the 1960s, leucotomy has been deplored by many as brutally arrogant, and collateral derision has been directed at Moniz as its inventor.[12] Others suggest judging the inventor separately from the invention, characterizing Moniz' work as a "great and desperate" attempt to find effective treatment for severe forms of mental illness for which there was at the time no effective treatment at all.[12] Some claim it was aggressive promotion of lobotomy by other doctors (such as Walter Freeman) which led to its being performed in large numbers of cases now considered inappropriate.[8][13]

Thorotrast, which Moniz helped develop for use in cerebral angiography is radioactive and was eventually found to be highly carcinogenic, affecting many patients who were treated with it before its use ceased in the 1950s.

In 1957 Moniz's study centre, now known as the Egas Moniz Museum, was transferred to Santa Maria Hospital, and integrated into the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lisbon, where there is also a statue of him. His art collection is on display at his country house in Avanca.

Important publications

According to the Nobel Prize, his more important publications are:[14]

  • Alterações anátomo-patológicas na difteria (Anatomo-pathologic changes in diphtheria), Coimbra, 1900.

  • A vida sexual (fisiologia e patologia) (Physiological and pathological aspects of sex life), 19 editions, Coimbra, 1901.

  • A neurologia na guerra (Neurology in war), Lisbon, 1917.

  • Um ano de política (A year of politics), Lisbon, 1920.

  • Júlio Diniz e a sua obra (Júlio Dinis and his works), 6 editions, Lisbon, 1924.

  • O Padre Faria na história do hipnotismo (Abbé Faria in the history of hypnotism), Lisbon, 1925.

  • Diagnostic des tumeurs cérébrales et épreuve de l'encéphalographie artérielle (Diagnostics of cerebral tumours and application of arterial encephalography), Paris, 1931.

  • L'angiographie cérébrale, ses applications et résultats en anatomic, physiologie et clinique (Cerebral angiography, its applications and results in anatomy, physiology, and clinic), Paris, 1934.

  • Tentatives opératoires dans le traitement de certaines psychoses (Tentative methods in the treatment of certain psychoses), Paris, 1936.

  • La leucotomie préfrontale. Traitement chirurgical de certaines psychoses (Prefrontal leucotomy. Surgical treatment of certain psychoses), Turin, 1937.

  • Clinica dell'angiografia cerebrale (Clinical cerebral angiography), Turin, 1938.

  • Die cerebrale Arteriographie und Phlebographie (Cerebral arteriography and phlebography), Berlin, 1940.

  • Ao lado da medicina (On the side of medicine), Lisbon, 1940.

  • Trombosis y otras obstrucciones de las carótidas (Thrombosis and other obstructions of the carotids), Barcelona, 1941.

  • História das cartas de jogar (History of playing-cards), Lisbon, 1942.

  • Como cheguei a realizar a leucotomia pré-frontal (How I came to perform leucotomy), Lisbon, 1948.

  • Die präfrontale Leukotomie (Prefrontal leucotomy), Archiv für Psychiatrie und Nervenkrankheiten, 1949.


Citation Linkopenlibrary.orgIt is often said that this was one of Moniz's lobotomy patients, but there seems to be no evidence for this. Shutts, David (1982). Lobotomy: resort to the knife. Van Nostrand Reinhold. p. 109.
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linkportal.issn.org"neurosurgery". Berrios, German E. (1997). "The origins of psychosurgery: Shaw, Burckhardt and Moniz". History of Psychiatry. 8 (1): 61–81. doi:10.1177/0957154X9700802905. ISSN 0957-154X. PMID 11619209.
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linknobelprize.org"Comments by Carl Skottsberg, President of the Royal Academy of Sciences (Sweden), Nobel Medicine Prize Banquet 1949". Retrieved 2009-12-02.
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linkportal.issn.orgTierney, Ann Jane (2000-04-01). "Egas Moniz and the Origins of Psychosurgery: A Review Commemorating the 50th Anniversary of Moniz's Nobel Prize". Journal of the History of the Neurosciences. 9 (1): 22–36. doi:10.1076/0964-704X(200004)9:1;1-2;FT022. ISSN 0964-704X. PMID 11232345.
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linkportal.issn.orgTan, Siang Yong; Yip, Angela (2017-04-21). "António Egas Moniz (1874–1955): Lobotomy pioneer and Nobel laureate". Singapore Medical Journal. 55 (4): 175–176. doi:10.11622/smedj.2014048. ISSN 0037-5675. PMC 4291941. PMID 24763831.
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Link//www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3916824Tondreau, R L (1985). "The retrospectoscope. Egas Moniz 1874-1955". RadioGraphics. 5 (6): 994–997. doi:10.1148/radiographics.5.6.3916824. PMID 3916824.
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Link//www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21284454Gross, Dominik; Schäfer, Gereon (2011-02-01). "Egas Moniz (1874–1955) and the "invention" of modern psychosurgery: a historical and ethical reanalysis under special consideration of Portuguese original sources". Neurosurgical Focus. 30 (2): E8. doi:10.3171/2010.10.FOCUS10214. PMID 21284454.
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linknobelprize.orgJansson, Bengt. "Controversial Psychosurgery Resulted in a Nobel Prize". Nobelprize.org. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linkfacstaff.unca.eduDiefenbach, Gretchen J; Donald Diefenbach; Alan Baumeister; Mark West. "Portrayal of Lobotomy in the Popular Press: 1935-1960". unca.ed. Archived from the original on 23 March 2010. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linknobelprize.org"The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1949". The Nobel Foundation. Retrieved 2009-11-13.
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linkopenlibrary.org
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linkweb.archive.orgAbimbola, S. (Jan. 2006) Student BMJ Archive. "The white cut: Egas Moniz, lobotomy, and the Nobel prize". Retrieved 04-14-2010. Archived 2010-12-26 at the Wayback Machine
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Link//www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16014881Lerner, Barron H. (July 14, 2005). "Last-Ditch Medical Therapy — Revisiting Lobotomy". New England Journal of Medicine. 353 (2): 119–121. doi:10.1056/NEJMp048349. PMID 16014881.
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linknobelprize.org"Biography". Nobelprize.org. Retrieved 11 July 2010.
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linkweb.archive.orgEgas Moniz Museum (in Portuguese)
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linkwww.bookrags.comWorld of Scientific Discovery on Antonio Egas Moniz
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linkapt.rcpsych.orgNeurosurgery for mental disorder: past and present
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linkwww.ncbi.nlm.nih.govNeurological stamp Egas Moniz (1874–1955) www.jnnp.com
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linkwww.jrank.org"neurosurgery"
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM
Citation Linkdoi.org10.1177/0957154X9700802905
Sep 25, 2019, 11:55 PM