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Dr Francisco Tongio Liongson's difficult doctoral thesis in medicine

Doctor Francisco Tongio Liongson is one the almost forgotten patriotic Filipino scientists . In fact the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) does not mention him in its biographies of Filipino scientists. The Senate of the Philippines official history has something on him as a politician, for he became Senator in 1916, but hardly mentions his scientific contribution.
Yet he is seen in almost all “group photos” of the Ilustrados in Madrid together with those we remember. Jose Rizal, Marcelo H Del Pilar, the Luna brothers. Liongson was a propagandist who studied for his doctorate in medicine in Madrid, defending his thesis entitled “La Celula Ante Microbio” in 1895. He was the second Filipino medical research scientist to have graduated from the Complutense. The first one was the enfant terrible Antonio Luna who defended his thesis in 1893. Luna and Liongson worked in the same research institute, Institute Pasteur in Paris under the mentorship of Elie Metchnikoff, the father of immunology as a science. While Luna focused on Malaria’s etiology, wherein in past two decades prior to 1893 much research was done, Liongson focused on how the cell responds to the presence of a pathogen. This involved much microbiological and cellular physiological experiments in Paris. And at this time the techniques were much in their infancy. Liongson and Luna worked on diagnostic techniques and this formed a part of their doctoral work. Luna’s techniques were more or less established and he was just refining the methods. Liongson had to develop his own from scratch. And that was the difficulty for him just to get the Doctor of Medicine degree. After doing an exhaustive review of the immunological theories of the day and testing their validity, he concludes by supporting the hypothesis of Metchnikoff on phagocytosis and the cytokinines involved in the inflammatory response. He also noted apoptosis of the cells exposed.
And so that’s why he writes of what he hoped to contribute
“Which is nothing else than to speak something of the new science, of the modern Microbiology, of that bacteriology, I have therefore proposed to develop in this report the role and means of action of the cell when it is attacked by another pathogen constituted by the microbe, and the procedures and means available to it. This one to influence on it. In truth, great and amazing is the revolution that modern sciences have experienced with modern Microbiology in the last third of this century of discoveries.”
All these would firmly establish immunology and microbiology as sciences and will forever influence the development of medicine as a science and save millions of lives. Metchnikoff would win the Nobel Prize in 1908 together with Paul Erlich. By then Dr Liongson was a medical practitioner in his country and would enter politics first as Governor of Pampanga and then Senator The two good friends and research workers in Paris, Luna and Liongson, now medical scientists returned to the Philippines just before the 1896 Revolution. Liongson became the chief medical officer of the Revolutionary Army under General Antonio Luna’s command. When the Revolution was defeated by the Americans, Liongson became the head of the municipal laboratory of Manila which Luna headed before being commissioned as a General. Luna would be murdered by General Aguinaldo’s presidential guards in Cabanatuan in 1899. Liongson who authored bills on public health, died of anthrax in 1919. Ironically this was the subject of his doctoral thesis in immunology.


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