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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 

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.

Sources 
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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Edward Jenner


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.

Edward Jenner (1749 - 1823). English physician and surgeon, Edward Jenner was born in Berkeley, Gloucestershire. His training included a seven year apprenticeship to a surgeon. He then moved to London where he completed his training at the St. George’s Hospital with John Hunter. Jenner became Hunter’s assistant for anatomical dissection and research. After finishing his studies, he returned to Berkeley.

During Jenner’s time smallpox was a disease with high mortality and terrible complications that could leave a patient blind or scarred for life. Of most interest to him was local lore that related that farmers and milkmaids that contracted cowpox could not contract smallpox, even when in direct exposure to smallpox. Cowpox is a viral infection of cows causing only minor discomfort and complications when acquired by a human. 

In 1796 Jenner was visited by Sarah Nelmes, a patient with smallpox-like signs on her hands. Jenner diagnosed cowpox instead of smallpox and discovered that she was a milkmaid. Sensing the need for additional research, he inoculated a young boy by scratching the boy’s skin and then rubbing some of the material exuding from Sarah’s pustules. The boy developed cowpox.

Edward Jenner
A month and a half later Jenner exposed the boy to smallpox. The boy did not develop any signs or symptoms of smallpox. The new era of vaccination had started.

In spite of his success, the spread of this new technique was slow and not easy, with many detractor and critics. In the end, Jenner was honored for his discovery. In 1980 the World Health Organization formally declared the erradication of smallpox from the world. Individuals are not vaccinated against smallpox anymore and only a few samples of the virus exist in restricted laboratories in the world.

In the pages of “Medical Terminology Daily” we explain why the process is called “vaccination” and also the role that Jenner’s discovery had in the “Royal Philanthropic Vaccination Expedition” to the New World.

Sources:  
1. “Edward Jenner and the history of smallpox and vaccination” Riedel, S Proc (Bayl Univ Med Cent). Jan 2005; 18(1): 21–25
2. “Edward Jenner and the eradication of smallpox” Willis NJ Scott Med J. 1997 Aug; 42(4):118-21.