Max Wilms was the son of a German lawyer, born in 1867 in Hünshoven / Geilenkirchen Germany, West of Cologne and close to the Belgian border. He studied medicine at several universities, including Munich, Marburg, Berlin, and Bonn,
obtaining his doctorate from Bonn in 1890. Wilms' peripatetic student career continued into his professional life. Following graduation he held a post in Giessen, before
he was appointed pathological anatomist to the Pathological Institute of Cologne under Otto Michael Ludwig Leichtenstern.
In 1899 he moved to Leipzig, becoming ausserordentlicher professor in 1904. In 1907, he was appointed professor of surgery in Basel and in 1910 he reached the peak of his career when he was called to the chair at the University of
Wilms was described as diligent and highly intelligent, possessing an exceptional working capacity, as well as being a dextrous surgeon. Wilms made great efforts to map the pathology and development of tumour cells, and after
investigating a comprehensive material of renal tumours he maintained that tumour cells are initiated already in the development of the embryo. He had a special interest in nephrology and his major contributions were in the surgical pathology
of the kidney, bladder and urogenital tract. Wilms was in Leipzig, working under Friedrich Trendelenburg between 1897 and 1899, when his book, Die Mischgescwülste, on what has come to be known as Wilms' tumour was published.
Wilms was only 32 years of age when he produced his important monograph on the pathology of mixed tissue tumours. His book dispelled existing confusion and his classification provided the foundation for modern concepts concerning this group
of disorders. With Ludwig Wullstein, Wilms published the Lehrbuch der Chirurgie. (1908-1909) which was subsequently translated into English, Italian, Russian, Spanish, and Hungarian. His name is also eponymously associated with
two operations. Firstly, perineal prostatectomy through a later incision and secondly, anterior and posterior rib resections used in the treatment of pulmonary tuberculosis
In May 1918, Wilms performed a laryngotomy / cricothyroidotomy on a French prisoner of war who had laryngeal swelling secondary to diphtheria. However, Wilms acquired the disease in a severe septic form and died a few days later. He was
only 51 years old, at the height of a distinguished career. The French officer survived.
"The patient was a 3-year old girl with a kidney tumor which had grown to immense proportions in a short time. The child, anemic and emaciated, was admitted with an enormous mass in the right abdomen and with definite
ascites. After nephrectomy, the little child recovered uneventfully. A few months later, however, a recurring abdominal mass was again palpable and shortly afterward the child died."
Wilms, Max. Die Mischgescwülste. Leipzig, 1899.