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 

Title page of Anathomia Corporis Humanis by Mondino de Luzzi. Image courtesy of the National Library of Medicine
Title page of "Anathomia Corporis Humanis" by Mondino de Luzzi

Alessandra Giliani

(1307 – 1326

Italian prosector and anatomist. Alessandra Giliani is the first woman to be on record as being an anatomist and prossector. She was born on 1307 in the town of Persiceto in northern Italy.

She was admitted to the University of Bologna circa 1323. Most probably she studied philosophy and the foundations of anatomy and medicine. She studied under Mondino de Luzzi (c.1270 – 1326), one of the most famous teachers at Bologna.

Giliani was the prosector for the dissections performed at the Bolognese “studium” in the Bologna School of Anatomy. She developed a technique (now lost to history) to highlight the vascular tree in a cadaver using fluid dyes which would harden without destroying them. Giliani would later paint these structures using a small brush. This technique allowed the students to see even small veins.

Giliani died at the age of 19 on March 26, 1326, the same year that her teacher Mondino de Luzzi died.  It is said that she was buried in front of the Madonna delle Lettere in the church of San Pietro e Marcellino at the Hospital of Santa Maria del Mareto in Florence by Otto Agenius Lustrulanus, another assistant to Modino de Luzzi.

Some ascribe to Agenius a love interest in Giliani because of the wording of the plaque that is translated as follows:

"In this urn enclosed are the ashes of the body of 
Alessandra Giliani, a maiden of Persiceto. 
Skillful with her brush in anatomical demonstrations 
And a disciple equaled by few, 
Of the most noted physician, Mondino de Luzzi, 
She awaits the resurrection. 
She lived 19 years: She died consumed by her labors 
March 26, in the year of grace 1326. 
Otto Agenius Lustrulanus, by her taking away 
Deprived of his better part, inconsolable for his companion, 
Choice and deservinging of the best from himself, 
Has erected this plaque"

Sir William Osler says of Alessandra Giliani “She died, consumed by her labors, at the early age of nineteen, and her monument is still to be seen”

The teaching of anatomy in the times of Mondino de Luzzi and Alessandra Giliani required the professor to be seated on a high chair or “cathedra” from whence he would read an anatomy book by Galen or another respected author while a prosector or “ostensor” would demonstrate the structures to the student. The professor would not consider coming down from the cathedra to discuss the anatomy shown. This was changed by Andreas Vesalius.

The image in this article is a close up of the title page of Mondino’s “Anothomia Corporis Humani” written in 1316, but published in 1478. Click on the image for a complete depiction of this title page. I would like to think that the individual doing the dissection looking up to the cathedra and Mondino de Luzzi is Alessandra Giliani… we will never know.

The life and death of Alessandra Giliani has been novelized in the fiction book “A Golden Web” by Barbara Quick.

1. “Books of the Body: Anatomical Ritual and Renaissance Learning” Carlino, A. U Chicago Press, 1999 
2. “Encyclopedia of World Scientists” Oakes, EH. Infobase Publishing, 2002 
3. “The Biographical Dictionary of Women in Science”Harvey, J; Ogilvie, M. Vol1. Routledge 2000 
4. “The Evolution of Modern Medicine” Osler, W. Yale U Press 1921 
5. “The Mondino Myth” Pilcher, LS. 1906 
Original image courtesy of NLM

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Right coronary artery

The right coronary artery (RCA) is one of the two branches that arises from the ascending aorta and provide blood supply to the heart. The RCA begins at the coronary ostium, situated usually within the right sinus of Valsalva found in the aortic valve, one of the semilunar valves of the heart.

The RCA gives off in its initial course two arteries: the conus artery, which gives blood to the conus arteriosus, the outflow tract of the right ventricle, and the artery to the sinuatrial (SA) node, a component of the conduction system of the heart.

The RCA descends in the atrioventricular sulcus, giving off a series of small right ventricular branches and a couple of small right atrial branches, it then bends around the acute margin (margo acutus) and passes to the posterior surface of the heart. Just before the RCA bends posteriorly, it will give off the acute marginal artery, usually a thin, longer branch that extends towards the cardiac apex.

Heart, anterior view. SVC: superior vena cava. RCA: right coronary artery; IVC: inferior vena cava; CFX: circumflex artery; LMCA: left main coronary artery; LAD: left anterior descending artery

Heart - Anterior view. Click on the image for a larger version.

In its posterior trajectory the RCA gives off a couple of small posterior right ventricular arteries and then ends at the crux cordis, where the RCA gives off the posterior interventricular artery, commonly known as the posterior descending artery (PDA). The RCA will also give off the posterolateral artery, which, situated in the atrioventricular sulcus, extends the vascular territory of the RCA into the region of the left ventricle. This origin of the PDA from the RCA is subject to anatomical variation, which gives origin to the concept of coronary dominance.

Arising from the terminal portion of the RCA (sometimes from the posterolateral artery) is the artery to the atrioventricular (AV) node, another component of the conduction system of the heart. It is easily understood that stricture or stenosis of the RCA (depending on location) can then lead to damage of the conduction system of the heart.

Human heart and coronary artery anatomy and pathology are some of the many lecture topics developed and presented by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc.

Image property of: CAA.Inc.Artist: Victoria G. Ratcliffe