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Lead Poisoning Unlikely Cause of Beethoven's Death
Date:6/3/2010

Technology helped researchers analyze bone fragments to rule out one of many theories

THURSDAY, June 3 (HealthDay News) -- Among the many health complications that have long been considered as possible contributors to the demise of world-renowned composer Ludwig van Beethoven in 1827, scientists believe they can now rule out lead poisoning.

The conclusion, not yet published, stems from a fresh analysis of Beethoven's skull fragments, conducted by researchers at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York City, as well as the Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies at San Jose State University.

"Ninety-five percent of lead in the adult body is stored in bone, where it stays for years, even after death," co-author Andrew Todd, an associate professor of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai, said in a news release. "Measuring the amount of lead in Beethoven's bone fragments allows us to reach back through time to measure his lead exposure during life."

The two fragments Todd and his colleagues examined are believed to have been initially collected by a friend of the composer, Dr. Gerhard von Breuning, when he exhumed and reburied Beethoven's corpse in 1863. In turn, von Breuning purportedly gave the fragments to a University of Vienna professor, whose family has retained the samples ever since.

The current exam follows an earlier 2000 look, also conducted by Todd, which sought to measure skull thickness, while also analyzing the surface of a small piece of skull bone.

The latest attempt to glean information utilized a technique known as X-ray fluorescence (XRF), which preserves the integrity of the examined bone. XRF exposes the sample to a small radiation dose -- described as being equal to 10 minutes of natural background radiation -- to highlight any lead stored in the bone.

The investigators found that the larger of the two fragments had 12 micrograms of lead per gram of bone mi
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