First Comprehensive Cancer Centre in Heidelberg

Collegezaal Cherny.jpg 

Professor Vinzenz Czerny in his lecture theatre. 

Vinzenz  Czerny (19 November 1842 - 3 October 1916) was an Austrian-German surgeon who played an important role in oncology and gynaecological surgery. 

1912 Samariterhaus voorkant web.jpg 

In 1906, under the leadership of Prof Dr. Vinzenz Czerny, a comprehensive cancer centre is opened in Heidelberg, Germany.

Under the name Samariterhaus, research and treatment are brought together and in addition to surgery, irradiation treatment with modern equipment is also introduced.  The results in Heidelberg raise much interest and an influx of patients, also from the Netherlands.  The future founder of the Netherlands Cancer Institute, Professor Jacob Rotgans, visits Professor Czerny's institute in 1906 and is impressed by the treatment results with combined surgery and radiotherapy.  The Samariterhaus is the example after which the Netherlands Cancer Institute will be modelled. 

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Facade of the Samariterhaus in Heidelberg, photo 2012.

In the large frontispiece the motto is engraved with which Professor Rotgans closed his plea for a Dutch cancer institute: "Healing by science" . 

In 1912, Professor Czerny publishes a report on the setting up and running of the cancer institute since 1906 [87]. Also the extent and results of patient treatment and research are described.

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Plan of the building complex of the Cancer Institute in Heidelberg, published in 1912. 

A: New building "Samariterhaus" in which the clinic and the outpatient facility is housed.  Next to it, in the original buildings (an old tobacco factory), B: The research laboratory, C: The research laboratory, together with part of the personnel accommodation, D: Experimental animal house and laundry.The total investment in buildings and furnishing comes to 993,074 German (gold) marks.  This is approximately 573,500 Dutch guilders, based on the exchange rate at the time.  Compared with the total setup costs of the NKI-AVL (120,279 Dutch guilders) it can be seen that the Samariterhuis in 1906 was a considerably larger project than the institute in Amsterdam.  The financial support which Professor Czerny was able to gather came not only from large parts of present day Germany and Eastern Europe, but also from other western nations; for example, from the Van Eeghen family from Amsterdam.  The cancer institute fulfils a large need for the improvement of the treatment of cancer which at that time was a disease with little hope for survival. 

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Samariterhaus in Heidelberg in 1912, a hospital ward. The institute has 3 such wards each with 27 beds and 8 private rooms each for 2 patients.

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 Samariterhaus in Heidelberg in 1912, operating theatre with, in the background, the sterilizing unit.   

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 Samariterhaus in Heidelberg in 1912, X-ray room.

In Heidelberg, clinical research is directed among other things at the possibilities of localizing deeper situated tumours with X-ray images.  A double image is possible using the stand with two X-ray tubes. It is probable that also a form of "crossfire irradiation" was carried out.  The closet in the background looks like a camera for clinical photography, but could also be the equipment for irradiation with radioactive isotopes (radium or mesothorium). The institute disposed over a laboratory for (micro) photography.

Bronnen & Publicaties

  • [87] “Das Heidelberger Institut für experimentelle Krebsforschung” by prof. dr. Vinzenz Czerny. 1912, Verlag der H. Laupp’schen Buchhandlung, Tübingen. (Central Library NKI, SB nr 21824) ,