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Print version ISSN 0004-282X
Arq. Neuro-Psiquiatr. vol.68 no.4 São Paulo Aug. 2010
Prof. Dr. Antonio Spina-França Netto passed away on May 17, 2010. Father, grandfather, professor, our boss and, above all, our friend; he left our presence only 14 months after Marília Lange Spina-França had done: his wife, the mother of his children, a pillar of support and a great unifier of the whole family. A hard and difficult loss to bear that only faith and time could mitigate.
Prof. Spina-França was born in Jaú, SP, and graduated in Medicine from the School of Medicine of the University of São Paulo (FMUSP) in 1951. From the start, he dedicated himself assiduously to the neurosciences, including studies on the histology of the nervous system, with Giuseppe Levi (Italy); on neurochemistry, with E. Annau (Budapest); on neuropathology, with Walter Maffei; and on neuropsychiatry, with Aníbal Silveira. He was the first resident in Neurology at FMUSP, with an intensive program of clinical activities guided by Oswaldo Lange and Horácio Martins Canelas. This clinical training, strongly grounded in basic neurosciences, constituted a striking professional characteristic in all the activities that he came to develop throughout his career.
Through Oswaldo Lange, Prof. Spina-França found his field of greatest interest in neurosciences applied to the diagnosis of neurological diseases: cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis. His doctoral thesis dealt with electrophoresis of CSF proteins, a subject in which he had gained expertise alongside Armand Löwenthal and Denise Kasher. These authors had established the concept of oligoclonal bands in CSF and their importance in diagnosing demyelinating diseases. When Löwenthal saw the CSF electrophoresis tracings on paper, he made a point of showing them to his co-workers, saying that this was the best that could be obtained through that method. From then on, Armand and Denise became Spina-França's dear friends and continual co-workers. His full professorship thesis, also on CSF, was on the topic of the value of beta globulin for the prognosis of inflammatory diseases of the nervous system, serendipitously anticipating the current lines of research on this group of proteins in prion and degenerative diseases.
Prof. Spina-França cultivated the traditions of the magnificent school of neurology of the House of Arnaldo, thus meriting his inclusion within the same lineage as Vampré, Lange, Tolosa and Lefèvre. He was successively Head of Clinical Neurology and Titular Professor of Neurology within a decade, with recognized care, dedication, competence and respect of individuals and institutions. In addition to FMUSP, Spina-França also participated in the creation of the school of neurology of Botucatu in his youth. He called on his co-workers to participate in this undertaking and took with him his methods, enthusiasm and philosophy of work.
From an early age, he dedicated himself passionately to the Brazilian Academy of Neurology (ABN). He never missed any of its congresses while he had the strength for this. He was especially prominent in his activities as the ABN's delegate to the World Federation of Neurology (WFN), a function that he performed for decades. His work gave Brazil a distinguished role within the international panorama of neurology, and he served as Vice-President of the WFN. He became known for his tolerance, his capacity to negotiate and his respect for all, and for always placing the objectives of the ABN above all, as the highest representative of Brazilian neurology.
Prof. Spina-França, with whom we had the good fortune to have a close relationship for four decades, was not a classic laboratory bench researcher like so many others who make up the teaching staff of medical schools. He was a very original, different and charismatic individual.
His originality became apparent in a natural manner, little by little, with the passage of the days and weeks, in visits, at seminars and in general meetings of the clinical neurology division of FMUSP. He would show himself to be attentive and friendly, and always observant and solicitous, especially in his good relationships with the newest members.
The most befitting image of him was one of a tenacious sower of seeds. Seeds strewn lovingly all the time, whether on a path of beaten earth, or on stony ground, or in a thornbush, or on fertile and prepared ground: this was indeed his primary aim, which he sought incessantly. As if, in this tireless task, he was motivated by a personal moral imperative.
Seeds of ideas, stimuli, improvement of self-confidence, surmountability, tolerance and continual betterment; a friendly hand. With a simple word, he was capable of opening perspectives and solutions that had never been imagined, to each person's exact measurements. But he did not make things easy. There were no magic solution. It was hard work, guidance accompanied by making demands, deadlines to meet and commitments.
Prof. Spina-França did not cultivate easy, polished and beautiful arguments with strong and immediate effect, although he was a master with few equals in the art of leading a line of reasoning to the desired target. He preferred a more elaborate way of thinking, which was sometimes more laborious and difficult. There was usually not only an immediate meaning but also another meaning that was latent and less explicit, although no less important.
This was his favorite way of acting. He would plant a seed without fanfare, for it to germinate in its own time and in the right context. We have to pass on to the newest members what we ourselves received from the oldest members: this is how we can call ourselves a school!
His personal method of work was always based on standardization and the use of modern laboratory techniques carried out to perfection. He created two great centers for CSF routines, from which most of his scientific production emanated, and practically all of his disciples' production too: the Spina-França Neurodiagnostics Laboratory, which was his home and refuge, and the Neurological Investigation Center of the Department of Neurology of FMUSP.
In addition to his arduous professional and scientific work, one of his principal activities was as the Editor of the journal Arquivos de Neuro-Psiquiatria. His constant assiduity, his skills and his prestige within the neurosciences, along with total and unconditional dedication, transformed Arquivos into one of the principal scientific journals in Brazil. Certain milestones stand out: enrolment in the open access system through indexation by SciELO, modernization of the editorial line, modifications to the graphic presentation of the journal and adoption of the online submission system.
He had many disciples, friends and admirers in Brazil and abroad, who he gained over the course of personal and professional paths. His longstanding contacts went from Japan and India to Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, England, Portugal, Canada and the United States, along with many countries in Latin America, especially Venezuela, Mexico, Peru, Argentina and Uruguay. Many of the present-day luminaries within Brazilian neurology have paid tribute to him at his departure. They have commented on how much of what they are today they owe to Prof. Spina-França: small gestures, a phrase, a presentation letter, a telephone call to a friend abroad, or a simple conversation in the corridor or on coming out of the ward after the weekly visit.
We will certainly not be without Prof. Spina-França, even though he is no longer among us. His seeds and his legacy will still go on germinating in many people, in different situations and at different times along their paths; including among those who may tomorrow come to be in charge of the destiny of Brazilian neurology.
This was Prof. Spina-França, as we knew him. He did not change his convictions, he did not yield to pressure and he kept his path clean and clear, over the course of a life that was among the richest and most edifying of lives.