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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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Galen of Pergamon


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.

Galen of Pergamon (129AD - 200AD). A Roman physician of Greek origin, Galen is a seminal character in Medicine and Physiology for the ages. He has been known as Galen, Galenus, Aelius Galenus, Claudius Galenus, Claudius Clarissimus Galen, and Galen of Pergamus. He was born in 129 A.D. in a Roman-Greek community in Pergamum (today's Turkey). As a very young man, he studied Medicine at the Pergamum  temple of Asclepius.  After traveling for additional studies, Galen obtained the appointment of "physician to the gladiators" back at this hometown of Pergamum.

The post required of him to study and develop hygiene, preventive medicine, as well as dealing with the gladiator's injuries. The horrible wounds allowed him to observe and study human anatomy and develop incredible skills at treating battle wounds. Galen traveled to Rome, where he was appointed Physician to the Emperor Marcus Aurelius.

Galen performed human and animal anatomical dissections, writing over 300 medical, pharmaceutical, and philosophical treatises in Greek, many of which were translated into other languages, especially Latin and Arabic.

Galen of Pergamum
Even though most of the original books were lost, the translations and interpretations of Galen's work have survived until today. His teachings and dictums were considered undisputable for over 1,500 years. In fact, in Medieval times and early Renaissance doubting Galen's teachings was considered heresy!

Galen's name is preserved in the eponymical "Vein of Galen", the great central cerebral vein.

Sources:
1. "Claudius Galenus of Pergamum: Surgeon of Gladiators. Father of Experimental Physiology" Toledo-Pereyra, LH; Journal of Investigative Surgery, 15:299-301, 2002
2. "Galen: history’s most enduring medic" Tan, SY; Singapore Med J 2002:3 (43):116 –117
3. "Galen and His Anatomic Eponym: Vein of Galen" Ustun, C.; Clinical Anatomy 17:454–457 (2004)
Original image courtesy of Images from the History of Medicine at nih.gov