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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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Henry Gray F.R.S


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.

Henry Gray F.R.S. (1827 – 1861). English anatomist, Henry Gray was born in 1827. Not much is known of his early studies. What is known is that on May 6, 1845 Gray was studying as a pupil at St. George’s Hospital in London. At 21 years of age Gray won an award for an anatomical paper on human and comparative anatomy of the eye and its appendages.

In 1850 Henry Gray was appointed as house surgeon to the St. George’s Hospital, and in 1852 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society. He wrote several anatomical papers and in 1852 became a lecturer on Anatomy at the same hospital.

At this time he started work on what would become his legacy to the world. A systematic analysis and treatise on human anatomy that was originally published in 1858, entitled “Anatomy, Descriptive, and Surgical” which was profusely illustrated by Henry Vandyke Carter, M.D.

Unfortunately for the world, Henry Gray was affected by smallpox and died on June 13, 1861 shortly after he was elected as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons. Henry Gray died when he was only 34 years old.

Henry Gray, FRS
Original imagecourtesy of NLM  

Much of the original work of Henry Gray is today in the public domain. Still, the book that he published is still in print, much modified, but with the same educational purpose. The 40th British Edition of “Gray’s Anatomy: The Anatomical Basis of Clinical Practice” was published in November 2008. The American Edition of the same book was published in 1908, long after his death. The 30thAmerican Edition of Gray’s Anatomy was last published in the USA in 1984.

Sources:
1. “Henry Gray and Henry Vandyke Carter: Creators of a Famous Textbook" Roberts, S. J Med Biog 2000 8: 206-212
2. "Henry Gray, Anatomist: An Appreciation" Boland, F Am J Med Sci 1908 1827-1924
3. "The Anatomist: A True Story of Gray’s Anatomy" Hayes, B. Random House PG 2007