Rediscovering Alois Alzheimer

ZEISS honours the famous neurologist that died 100 years ago


Alois Alzheimer
Alois Alzheimer

Alois Alzheimer was born on the 14th of June 1864 in Marktbreit am Main (Germany) and died in Breslau (now Wroclaw, Poland) on December 19, 1915. Alzheimer’s most widely known contribution to the Neurosciences is the histological description of the disease that was named after him by Emil Kraepelin. However, research into this disease represents but a small segment of Alzheimer’s clinicopathological interests that were focused on the histopathology of the cerebral cortex in the mentally ill.



“Excessive reservations and paralysing despondency have not helped the sciences to advance nor are they helping them to advance, but a healthy optimism that cheerfully searches for new ways to understand, as it is convinced that it will be possible to find them.”



Alzheimer's "Case 1" Slide
Alzheimer’s “Case 1” Slide

In 1907 Alzheimer published the first case of a disease that was named after him in 1910. The report described the condition of a 51 year old female patient who died following several years of dementia. Neurologists have speculated that she was suffering from a rare metabolic disorder called metachromatic leukodystrophy (MLD). In 1992 and 1997, respectively, the histological slides of Alzheimer’s original cases were rediscovered in basements of the University of Munich after a search organized by Manuel Graeber of Imperial College London, now Director of Brain Tumor Research, University of Sydney. The rediscovered slides that were well-preserved and of very high technical quality show no evidence of MLD. But, her cortex does display the two classic pathological signs of Alzheimer’s disease: amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.


With the help of ZEISS automated slide scanning systems, Alzheimer’s slides were scanned at full resolution into virtual slides. Please follow the link to access the slides of “Case 1” and “Case 2” in your web browser:

ZEISS ZEN browser
ZEISS ZEN browser


Apart from their unique scientific value, the importance of the rediscovery of the slides is that they put an end to lingering doubts about whether Alzheimer’s first patient, a 51-year-old woman, suffered from a rare metabolic disorder called metachromatic leukodystrophy rather than the disease named after him. Graeber says the rediscovered slides show no evidence of this, but the cortex does exhibit the two classic pathological signs of Alzheimer’s–amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles.


Carl Zeiss Jughandle Microscope
The “Carl Zeiss Jughandle”. Courtesy of Dr. Timo Mappes, Museum Optischer Instrumente.



Evidence from two original Alzheimer papers from 1892 and 1897 (his Frankfurt years) that describe a progressive spinal muscle atrophy and colloid degeneration with mentions of “homog. immers. 1/12, compens. ocular 4 or 2”, “Zeiss Obj. A Ocular 2”, “Homog. Immersion 1.3, and Compensationsocular 4”, “Zeiss Objectiv DD, Ocular 4” points into the direction that he was using Zeiss oculars and oil immersion objectives, most likely mounted onto the high-end research stand “Großes Zeiss Mikroskop 1C” from the optical workshop of Carl Zeiss in Jena, Germany. This famous vintage type of research microscope is lovingly called the “Carl Zeiss Jughandle” for his distinctive form.

Today’s digital microscopy systems allow to digitize specimens and create high-quality virtual slides the reliable, reproducible way – with Axio Scan.Z1. Superior ZEISS components guarantee the excellence of your images, giving you virtual slides of a consistently high quality even when capturing fluorescence images at unprecedented speed.


ZEISS Axio Scan.Z1
ZEISS Axio Scan.Z1


ZEISS wishes to acknowledge the continuous help and assistance of Prof. Manuel Graeber in the rediscovery and publication of Alois Alzheimer’s history and original slides.




Tags: Digital Microscopy, Light Microscopy, Software & Digital Imaging


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