Volodymyr Betz

Volodymyr Betz

Volodymyr Betz (1834-1894) world-renowned neurobiologist, anatomist and histologist, professor of the St. Volodymyr University of Kyiv (now Taras Shevchenko National University), famous for the discovery of giant pyramidal neurons of primary motor cortex which later were named Betz cells is most famous Ukrainian neuroscientist.
Volodymyr Betz was born on 26, April, 1834 in village Tatarivshchyna (suburb Ostra) in Chernihiv province (Ukraine, part of the Russian Empire at that time). He came from Ukrainian noble family, where they kept to democratic views. Volodymyr acquired the secondary education in the Nizhyn Gymnasium. Later he transferred to the 2nd Kyiv Gymnasium and after graduation from which in 1853 he entered the medical faculty in St. Volodymyr University (now Taras Shevchenko National University of Kyiv). In 1860 he received a physician's diploma and was appointed a prosector's aide at the anatomy department. Thanks to great successes during the study at university the talented graduate-doctor was sent to foreign trip to Vienna. He went abroad to study in May 1861 and returned in September 1862, having studied with and attended the lectures of professors Brucke, Bunsen, Kolliker, Helmholtz, Kirchhoff. Betz returned to Ukraine and in 1863 obtained a Doctor of Sciences degree with his thesis On the Mechanism of Circulation in the Liver.

From 1864 to 1867 he lectures anatomy and histology at the Kyiv University, rising in 1868 to the rank of Extraordinary Professor and in 1870 becoming Ordinary Professor of the anatomy department. In the early 1860s, Betz began to concentrate on studies of the brain. Betz believed his histological science could aid in explaining neurological diseases, and thus he approached clinical medicine using science: It is up to the scientists and psychiatrists to research more thoroughly these centers in the brain and especially anteriorly?. This could possibly throw light on the sudden occurrence of temporary paralysis of cerebral origin; on eclampsia of pregnancy; or epileptic convulsions, hysterical laughter, and finally it could, in a great area, explain the appearance of partial or total aphasia.
Betz's revolutionary methods of fixation and staining were the result of his motivation to improve histological technique and to exploit the latest microscope technology. As described in his 1873 paper Die Untersuchungsmethode des Centralnervensystems beim Menschen, many of his methods were enormously complicated. Betz significantly improved Reil's method of brain tissue fixation with ethanol by adding ether and chloroform, potassium bichromate, and iodine. He established certain fixation solutions and methods for fixing every specific brain structure. Betz's method allowed him to cut extremely thin brain sections.

He had specific instructions for cutting and invented a system that minimized friction and allowed tissue to be cut smoothly. A perfectly hardened brain permits very large and thin sections to be made. For these purposes Betz invented a special guillotine-like cutting machine that yielded excellent brain sections. Brain tissue preparations made by Betz were awarded medals twice - at the All-Russian manufacturing exhibition in 1870 and at Vienna World Exposition of 1873. In 1874 Volodymyr Betz described the giant pyramidal neurons in the primary motor cortex, which later were named Betz cells.

It was the most significant contribution of Betz in to the world's neuroscience. Volodymyr Betz passed away on October 12, 1894. The tomb of the great scientist is located in the picturesque and secluded corner of Vydubychi Monastery in Kyiv.