Vignette: Dr. Emidio Afonso
This Article was written by late Dr. Bailon De Sa, PhD.
A Tribute on his Centenary Birth Anniversary
Dr. Emidio Afonso was born on 2nd of March 1916
An exceptionally brilliant medical student, Dr. Emidio Afonso was admired and loved by his colleagues, not only for his deep medical knowledge, but also for his artistic and musical virtuosity. He was already a legend even while he was just a young medical practitioner. A clinician of uncanny diagnostic intuition, he soon established for himself the reputation of a doctor who rescued the dying from the jaws of death.
He was appointed successively as a Government analyst, the ﬁrst Principal of Pharmacy College, Professor of Biochemistry, Director of Public Health Laboratory and ﬁnally as the Director of Health Services. He relinquished the latter as it entailed bureaucratic red tape which was repugnant to him, and returned to the laboratory which was his intellectual home. Whether at home or in his laboratory he could be a mini-sculptor or a violinist or an ingenious mechanic. He could move you to tears when he played with unction his favourite Western classics. He constructed his own electrocardiograph and the simple layout for his experiments on electrophoresis. His versatility was amazing. The period 1936-1974 was the most productive and exciting of his scientiﬁc career.
While only 19 or 20 years of age, he reconstructed with the simplest material, a much more simpliﬁed version of Indian Scientist J. Chandra Bose’s crescograph, which is an instrument for measuring the sensitivity of plants. When Bose received a print of his instrument he was amazed and extolled Dr. Emidio’s instrumental dexterity and unmistakable talent for research. One of the earliest articles he wrote on Chandra Bose was for the Boletim do Instituto Vasco da Gama (predecessor of the Boletim Instituto Menezes Braganza) starts with the words: “The work of a sage is the symphony of his existence. Order, method, discipline, observation and love for truth which often entails sacriﬁce, are the fundamental notes whose harmony spreads far and wide blessing his talent, glorifying his work and exalting his native land.” These could be ﬁttingly applied to his own person and his scientiﬁc career.
The same Boletim had previously published ﬁve articles on diverse scientiﬁc topics: an experimental and theoretical study explaining the variability of chemical properties; a new graphic method with suggestions for constructing scientiﬁc apparatus; the mechanism of hearing of musical sounds; a study of electrophysiology of the human skin; a psycho-physiological study of the variability of psychic properties and mnemonic accumulations, and ﬁnally the biological action of infrared radiation.
In 1941, he published his major work ‘COR IN VITRO’ which contains experimental studies in the embryology, histology, physiology and pathology of the heart. This work acquires great signiﬁcance not only because he introduces new techniques to study the heart “under the microscope: living, pulsating and growing” but also because, given the complexity of the subject and working privately in poor material circumstances he could probe so deep into the heart of the matter. As he preferred he did little to publicise his own work and he was content to have performed what he set out to do. Later the same year he started his Resenhas Cardiologicas, which was a review of cardiovascular pathology. But it was short-lived.
The next great step in his research were his contributions to the immunoelectrophoretic analysis. He published his ﬁndings in world renowned journals such as Nature, the Lancet, Immunochemistry, The Journal of Clinical pathology and Clinica Chimica Acta published by Elsevier in Holland. This was a continuous ﬂow when his research activity attained its peak. From 1961 to 1973 he published no less than 17 original papers in the above international journals. They were either on electrophoresis or immunoelectrophoresis. He seems to have churned the whole electrophoretic ﬁeld.
In 1965, he wrote a monograph on Quantitative Immunoelectrophoretic Analysis of Normal and Pathological Serum Proteins in the Boletim do Instituto Menezes Braganza (of which he was a Fellow) where he shows how immunoelectrophoretic analysis can serve as a powerful laboratory diagnostic aid. He gives various pathological electrophoretic patterns of chronic uremia, multiple myeloma, nephrosis, liver cirrhosis, hepatitis etc. and ends in a hopeful note that his methods will someday be useful in routine clinical use.
The clarity of his mental processes showed how he worked out “improved methods” which really meant simpliﬁcation of routine and unnecessarily cumbersome methods which were in use among medical professionals. Those who set score by courage, reasoned deﬁance, intellectual eminence and moral rectitude would ﬁnd that Dr. Emidio Afonso was the very quintessence of these qualities so rare today.
In the small territory of limited resources as was in Goa during 1940-1961, Dr. Emidio Afonso , overcoming all obstacles, almost without any apparatus or laboratory facilities, invented and created his own instruments. From 1943 to 1970, by constant theorising and experimentation, he opened up new horizons in research and clinical, chemical and bacteriological analyses in Goa. The results were all published in international journals of repute. He built his own electrocardiograph in 1940. Later in his life it was the study of serum proteins that became his obsession. This took him to the end of his career where he researched within the domain of immunochemistry in the study of cancer proteins.
Visiting scientists from abroad who read his articles on immunoelectrophoresis often dropped in to visit this great experimental Innovator. They were amazed to ﬁnd a simple man, artless in his behaviour, working in a laboratory which was simpler and more artless than the scientist himself. Dr. Emidio Afonso is a shining example that one can do great work in science if one has the necessary genius and inventiveness. Sophistication in instrumentation is not an indispendable requisite for great scientiﬁc work. One is reminded of the great C.V. Raman and his unostentatious laboratory in the Association for Cultivation of Science in Calcutta, as also of the other great pioneers such as Roentgen, the Curies et al.
The stuff of genuine greatness is simplicity.
LIST OF PUBLICATIONS OF DR. AFONSO:
- “Treatment of gas gangrene”, Lancet. 1:644, 1940 April 6.
- “Cor in vitro (Experimental studies on Embryology, Histology, Physiology and Pathology of the Heart)”, Tipograﬁa Colonial, (1941), Nova Goa.
- Uma Nova Técnica de Microelectroforese”, Separata dos Anais do Instituto de Medicina Tropical, Vol. XII, No. 4, Dezembro de 1955.
- “Determinaçao Quantitative da Labilidade Coloidal do Soro nas Suspensoes do Colesterol, Reacçao de Hanger-Permanyer Quantitativa.”, Separata de “O Médico”, No. 251 (1956).
- “Acerca dos Corantes para Esfregacos de Sangue”, Separata do Instituto de Medicina Tropical Vol.XIII, No, 1-2, Marco–Junho de 1956.
- “Sobre a Estrutura e Biosintese das Proteinas”, Separata dos Anais do Instituto de Med. Tropical, Vol. XIII, No.3 Setembro de 1956.
- “On the Electrophoresis of Proteins on Celulose Acetate Membranes”, Clin. Chim. Acta, 6 (1961), p. 883.
- “Rapid determination of A2 Hemoglobin by Reverse-ﬂow Electrophoresis on Celulose Acetate membrane”, Clin. Chim. Acta, 7 (1962), 99.545-549.
- “On the Electrophoretic Fractionation of Normal Human Erythrocytes Lysates”, Clin. Chim Acta, 8 (1963), pp.446-449.
- “Haemoglobin Binding Serum Globulins”, Nature, Vol.198, No. 4855 (1963), pp.1100-1101.
- 1 “Electrophoretic Patterns of Tumor Tissue Proteins”, J. Clin. Path., 16 (1963). P. 375.
- “Quantitative Immunoelectrophoresis of Serum Proteins”, Clin. Chim. Acta, 10 (1964), pp 114-122.
- “Simpliﬁed Technique of Immunoelectrophoresis, Short Communication”, Clin. Chim. Acta, 10 (1964), p. 192.
- “New Manometric Apparatus and Technique for Semi-micro Serum CO2 and Blood Urea Determination”, Clin. Chim. Acta, 9 (1964), pp 173-178.
- “A Closed space: CO2 Equilibration. A Basis for Micro and Ultra Micromethods for the Acid-base Status of Blood”, Clin. Chim. Acta, 11 (1965), pp.461-468.
- “Quantitative Immunoelectrophoretic Analysis of Normal and Pathological Serum Proteins”, Separata do Inst. Menezes Braganca No. 86 (1965).
- “On Human Serum Amylase”, Clin. Chim. Acta, 14(1966), pp. 195-198.
- “Quantitative Immunoelectrophoresis of Serum Proteins-Improved Method”, Clin. Chim. Acta,13(1966), pp. 107-112.
- “Quantitative Immunoelectrophoresis-A Simpliﬁed Method”, Clin. Chim. Acta, 14 (1967), pp.368-370.
- “Depolymerisation of Normal Human Serum macroglobins”, Clin. Chim. Acta., 15 (1967), pp. 368-370.
- “Serum Proteins Changes in Indian Infantile Cirrhosis”, Short Communication, The Clinician, May 1967.
- “Immunoelectrophoretic Identity Patterns”, Short Communication, Clin. Chim. Acta., 17(1967), p.131.
- “On Immunoelectrophoretic Quantitation”, Clin. Chim. Acta, 17(1967), pp.138-141.
- “Evaluation of Renal Filter Selectivity by Quant. Immunoelectrophoresis”, Clin. Chim. Acta, 17 (1967), pp. 239-244.
- “On Interference of Diffusion in Quant. Immunoelectrophoresis”, Clin. Chim. Acta,18 (1967), pp.95-96.
- “Immunoelectrophoresis of Serum Proteins”, Tipograﬁa Sadananda, Panjim, Goa, India.
- “Electrophoretic Heterogeneity of IgG”. Clin. Chim. Acta, 21 (1968), pp. 143-149. (with Proenca, JS)
- “Brief Study of Myeloma Proteins”. Clin. Chim. Acta, 21 (1968), pp. 283-287.
- “Preparative electrophoresis of serum proteins on plaster of paris”, Clin. Chim. Acta 21 (3): 315-9,1968 (with Affonso, A)
- “Nature and Signiﬁcance of “Serum Proteins Changes in Active Pulmonar tuberculosis.” (Preliminary Communication), The Clinician, Vol. 32, No. 2 (1968), pp. 52-57.
- “On the Structure of some Myeloma Proteins”. Immunochemistry, Pergamon Press, Vol.6 (1969), pp.715-722, Great Britain.
- “Monoclonal Immunoglobulinopathies in Goa”, Indian J. Med. Res., 59(1971), pp. 1083-1089. (with Tikare, SK; Parashar S; Dias, VP).
- “Orthogonal Immunodiffusion and Immunoelectrophoresis of Serum Proteins”. Clin. Chim. Acta, 41 (1972), pp. 275-286. (with Affonso, A; Sansguiri, R.S.).
- “Laurell’s Two Dimensional Immunoelectrophoresis. Improved Technique”, Clin. Chim. Acta, 54 (1974), pp. 123-126.
- “Differential Molecular Sieve Electrophoresis of Serum Proteins”. Clin. Chim. Acta., in press.
- “Separation of macromolecular protein fractions of human serum – a new technique”. Indian Journal of Medical Research: 68:519-26. 1978 Sep. (with Shalaja, MS).