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Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community, medical students, and the medical industry. We will post a workweek daily medical or surgical term, its meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History

Thomas Willis, MD
Thomas Willis
(1621-1675)

An English physician and anatomist, Willis was born on his parents' farm in Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, where his father held the stewardship of the Manor. He was a kinsman of the Willys baronets of Fen Ditton, Cambridgeshire. He graduated M.A. from Christ Church, Oxford in 1642. In the Civil War years he was a royalist, and was dispossessed of the family farm at North Hinksey by Parliamentary forces. In the 1640's Willis was one of the royal physicians to Charles I of England. He obtained his medical degree in 1646.

Thomas Willis might well be one of the greatest physicians of the 17th century.He is one of the founders of the Royal Society of London. He is remembered by his many publications, especially "Cerebri Anatome: Cui accessit Nervorum Descriptio et Usu", where he describes the arterial anastomoses at the base of the brain. This work is also the first detailed description of the vasculature of the brain. Willis described nine cranial nerves.

He is considered as the father of Neurology as a discipline. He used the term "neurology" for the first time in 1664. He described several neurological conditions

The Arterial Circle of Willis is a famous eponymous structure found at the base of the brain. It represents an anastomotic roundabout that connects the right and left sides as well as the carotid and vertebral arterial territories that supply the brain. Named after Thomas Willis, this structure was known well before him, but it was Willis who described its function.  If you click on the image or here, you will be redirected to a detailed description of this structure.

Sources:

1. "The legendary contributions of Thomas Willis (1621-1675): the arterial circle and beyond" Rengachary SS et al J Neurosurg. 2008 Oct;109(4):765-75
2. "Thomas Willis, a pioneer in translational research in anatomy (on the 350th anniversary of Cerebri anatome)" Arraez-AybarJournal of Anatomy, 03/2015, Volume 226, Issue 3
3. " The naming of the cranial nerves: A historical review" Davis, M Clinical Anatomy, 01/2014, Volume 27, Issue 1
4. "Observations on the history of the circle of Willis". Meyer A, Hieros, R.Med Hist 6:119–130, 1962


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Michael Servetus


This article is part of the series "A Moment in History" where we honor those who have contributed to the growth of medical knowledge in the areas of anatomy, medicine, surgery, and medical research.To search all the articles in this series, click here.

Michael Servetus (1511 -1553) was a Spanish theologian, physician, and anatomist. He is also known as  Miguel Servet, Miguel Serveto, and Michel de Villeneuve. Servetus had studies in a multitude of fields, including catography, mathematics, pharmacology, astronomy, etc. He was born in 1511 in Aragon, Spain. Servetus started his studies in law in 1531and Medicine in 1536, where he excelled as an anatomist. Just as Andreas Vesalius and William Harvey, he clashed with the Galenic vision of anatomy and physiology.  He correctly stated the theory of pulmonary circulation, but with no logical proof as Harvey.

Servetus was openly critical of the catholic church, publishing three books that openly questioned the Holy Trinity dogma. Servetus published his findings on pulmonary circulation in a controversial book "Cristianismi Restitutio", where pulmonary circulation was only one of the points he made which were mostly his position on the Holy Trinity and questioning the idea that everyone was predestined, as the catholic church professed at that time. His anatomical views were the least of his problems; because of this open criticism of Galen and the church. Servetus was burnt at the stake in Geneva on October 27, 1553.

Original image courtesy of National Library of Medicine.

 Michael Severtus