In Memoriam: Mario Tiengo

TiengoMario Tiengo, MD, PhD
Milan, Italy
September 3, 2010

Dr. Mario Tiengo, pioneer of pain physiopathology and therapy in Italy, passed away in the Salvatore Maugeri Foundation Clinic in, Pavia, Italy, at the age of 88. Dr. Tiengo earned his degree in medicine and surgery in 1947 at the State University of Milan, Italy. His experimental thesis in neurophysiology was published in 1948. He spent a few years as an Assistant to Prof. Rodolfo Margaria at the Institute of Neurophysiology at the State University of Milan. At that point, he obtained the “specializzazione” (a type of Masters’ degree) and a “libera docenza” (a kind of assistant professorship) in Anesthesia and Intensive Care. In 1954, he founded the Anesthesia and Intensive Care department at the Istituti Clinici “Mangiagalli” hospital in Milan and undertook the role of Chief. In 1960, he received his PhD in Anesthesiology and Intensive Care from the State University of Milan. A great friend of John Bonica, he was inspired by the American model, and in the 1970s, he established the first pain therapy care guidelines at the hospital, for both chronic non-cancer pain and palliative care.

In 1968, Dr. Tiengo became the Chair of Anesthesia and Intensive Care at the State University of Milan. In 1982, he founded and became the world’s first university chair for the Physiopathology and Therapy of Pain, inspiring and mentoring many students who remember him with great affection. In the same year, thanks to a generous donation by the Visconti di Modrone family, he founded and helped to construct Italy’s first university hospital for pain therapy, the Bergamasco Pavilion, renamed the Tiengo Pavilion in 2004.

In the 1980s, Dr. Tiengo held the first “corsi di perfezionamento” (a type of Masters’ program) for pain therapy aimed at family doctors and nurses. During the 1980s and 1990s, he collaborated in study and research on the mind-brain question, which continued to fascinate him for the rest of his life, with Nobel Prize winner Sir John Eccles and philosopher of science Karl Popper. This work laid the foundation for Dr. Tiengo’s future research, which also explored the possibility of applying the concepts and the mathematical formalism of quantum mechanics to the perception of pain.

Dr. Tiengo was co-founder of the Italian Association for the Study of Pain (IASP Chapter), of which he was President from 1982-1985. From 1984-1987, he was also a member of the IASP Ad Hoc Subcommittee for Educational Books and Brochures. In 1993, he was honored as an Honorary Member of IASP “for his untiring role in pain education in Italy.” According to his wife, “Mario was very proud of his Honorary Membership in IASP, and considered it one of the most important recognitions of his career.”

After entering semi-retirement in 1992, and fully retiring in 1996, Dr. Tiengo was named Professor Emeritus of Pain Therapy at the State University of Milan in 1997. In 2007, he was awarded the prestigious Galen Award, considered by many experts to be the Italian Nobel Prize for medicine, for a lifetime of achievement. In 2008, he succeeded the Dean of the University of Italian Switzerland as President of the John Eccles Foundation.

Dr. Tiengo founded and directed various professional journals for pain therapy, including Algos, Pathos, and Seminari sul Dolore. He published 28 volumes and conference acts on the subject, as well as over 600 professional articles, throughout his life. He organized numerous conferences, national and international, and courses for general practitioners on pain. In 2000, he started the website www.GoodEveningDoctor.it, which has been replaced by the Google Site Good Evening Doctor (http://sites.google.com/site/goodeveningdoctor). The site is dedicated to pain therapy and the physiopathology of pain for general medicine doctors and the general public, as well as providing information about Dr. Tiengo and his career.

In addition to his reputation in Italy as “the father of pain therapy,” Dr. Tiengo was given much recognition as an artist, and co-founded the Association of Painters of via Bagutta. He was President of the Società del Giardino, one of Italy’s oldest and most prestigious gentlemen’s clubs, from 2006-2009.

Following Dr. Tiengo’s death from an inoperable brain tumor, a funeral was held in Pavia on September 6, 2010, in the church of SS. Gervasio e Protasio; he is buried in the Cimitero Maggiore in Milan. Survived by his wife, art historian and museologist Starleen K. Meyer, PhD., he will be remembered not only for his fundamental contributions to pain therapy in Italy, but also for his profound humanity.