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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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The presence of Andreas Vesalius in Zakynthos (1)

The island of Zakynthos is one of the Ionian Islands found 155 miles (250 km) to the West of Athens. It is to the South of Macedonia, the island of Odysseus. It is also known as Zanthe or Zante, both pronunciations of the medieval Italian name for this island.

In October 15, 1564 Andreas Vesalius died suddenly at the gates of the main city of the island, also called Zakynthos, after a long and perilous return voyage from his pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The details of this trip and his potential cause of death will be covered in subsequent articles.

As famous as Vesalius is today, you would think that it would be easy to find information as to his grave and presence in the island. This is not so. Vesalius last trip to Jerusalem, his return, his death has been to date shrouded in mystery and legend. Some of these have been clarified in the 2014 Vesalius Continuum meeting in Zakynthos.

There are a few reminders of the presence of Vesalius on the island. The first one is a marble bust found in a small triangular plaza found about 100 yards from the building of the Municipality of Zakynthos and the Dionysios Solomos Square(Πλατεία Διονυσίου Σολωμού). The plaza was initially called “Vesal square” and later was renamed after the former major of Zakynthos, Fotis Ladikos.

Described by O’Malley (1965) in his well-known Vesalius’ biography, I had a difficult time finding the bust, although it is on the main street in front of the sea looking at the port, as most locals do not know about it. It was only by chance that one of the attendees to the meeting, Dr. Kenneth Wise found it close to a well-known Greek Restaurant, the Gallo D’Oro (Golden Rooster). It was also by chance that he and I talked about it when discussing Dr. Wise’s book on Vesalius entitled “All Else Is Mortal”.

The marble bust has a barely readable marble plaque that reads in Greek:

ΑΝΔΡΕΑΣ ΒΕΖΑΛ
ΕΓΕΝΝΗΘΗ ΕΙΣ ΒΡΥξΕλλΕΣ 1-2-1515
ΑΠΕΘΑΝΕ ΕΝ ΖΑΚΥΝΘΩ 15-10-1564

ANDREAS VESALIUS
BORN IN BRUSSELS 1-2-1515
DIED IN ZAKYNTHOS 15-10-1564

This plaque has the wrong date of birth, as it is well documented that Andreas Vesalius was born on the early morning of December 31st, 1514, , making the year 2014 the 500th anniversary of his birth and the 450th  anniversary of this death. This is the year when I spent a week in Zakynthos.

Continued here.

Bust of Vesalius in Zakynthos

Plaque on the Bust of Vesalius in Zakynthos

Bust of Vesalius in Zakynthos