The Father of Nephrology

The Man

Dr. Richard Bright was born September 28,1789 in Bristol, England. In the summer of 1810, following medical studies at the University of Edinburgh, he made a scientific expedition to Iceland. Upon his return, he began his prolific and prestigious association with Guy’s hospital in London.

Between the years of 1818 to 1820, Bright visited and consulted at clinics throughout Europe. In 1820, Bright was granted the title of Physician Extraordinary to Queen Victoria. Bright was also an accomplished writer and artist, publishing and illustrating many works related to medicine, and to his travels in general.

His Work With the Kidneys

Early in his medical career, Bright became fascinated with the function of the kidneys and performed many laboratory experiments to further his knowledge. His study of patients with protein in the urine, called albumin, resulted in diseases of the kidney with protein excretion being named Bright’s Disease.

Dr. Bright continued to study kidney function. He had the first clinical experimental unit in England, and it was devoted to the study of nephrology; however, his work was not confined only to the renal system. He also voraciously studied the heart, lungs, and nervous systems. Dr. Bright was the first physician to distinguish the accumulation of fluid in the body-called edema-from diseases of cardiac, hepatic, and renal origins.

The Legacy

On December 16, 1858, Dr. Richard Bright died at the age of 69 from valvular heart disease. A dedication to his life’s work was erected at St. James’ Church in Piccadilly with the following quote:

“He contributed to medical science many discoveries and works of great value,

And died while in the full practice of his profession,

After a life of warm affection, unsullied purity, and great usefulness.”

What better could be said about a person’s contribution to the world than the preceding words? Dr. Bright left behind a legacy that will endure beyond the bounds of time. The knowledge that he discovered and shared almost 200 years ago is still being built upon today, carried out by the grandchildren of nephrology.