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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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Rare & Collectible Books at AbeBooks.com 

 

Vesalius' Annotated Fabrica

Everybody has the hope of someday finding a treasure, and we look for it in garage sales, antique shops, anywhere and everywhere. As a book collector, I live for the day when I find a precious book that has been overlooked and that I can add to my collection. This is the story of such a find by a book collector.

No one knows exactly how many copies were printed of Andrea Vesalius' magnificent book “De Humani Corporis Fabrica, Libri Septem”. It is estimated that each run of the first (1543) and second (1555) editions were between 600 -1000 copies, maybe less.  The censuses on the surviving copies of this book published by S. Joffe, MD and V. Buchanan in 2015 tell us that less than 60 copies of each of these books exist in the USA, and the total worldwide number is unknown. Most of the books available today are in rare book repositories at university libraries, and only a few are available to private book collectors.

Image of the Annotated Fabrica 

The price for a good copy today is close to half a million US dollars, although some copies can be found for less. To see some prices, click here; you will be surprised.

In 2007, Vancouver pathologist and book collector Dr. Gerard Vogrincic bought a Fabrica at auction in Germany. This was not the best copy of the Fabrica. The index (an important part of the book, as it was the first anatomy book to ever have one) was missing, but most important, the book text was heavily underlined; some paragraphs were crossed out with ink, and over one thousand annotations were found on the sided of the pages, as well as in the images, a critical part of this book and the reason for its fame. As a result, the price at the auction was not too high.

A careful revision of the handwritten notes led Dr. Vogrincic to believe that the notes may have been written by Vesalius himself, but he had no idea of how to confirm it and he could not read Latin, the language of the annotations. There are only a few examples of Vesalius’ handwriting, as Vesalius burned many of his notes and letters, and only some survived. Dr. Vogrincic obtained a facsimile of one of Vesalius’ letters and was surprised that indeed the writings matched!

Dr. Vogrincic contacted Dr. Vivian Nutton, Emeritus Professor at the UCL Center for the History of Medicine in London. Dr. Nutton, a Latin scholar and Vesalius expert confirmed that this was a book that not only belonged to Vesalius, but that the handwriting, the style of the Latin was by Vesalius. The book includes corrections to the style, grammar, anatomy, images, and also instructions for a third edition that was never published.

The book now rests at the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in University of Toronto, Canada on a permanent loan, part of a 2015 exhibit, and was an important addition to the translation and annotations for the “New Fabrica” authored by Drs. M. Hast and D. Garrison. The New Fabrica is now out of print.

Here is a link to a YouTube video by Philip Oldfield, curator of the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library in University of Toronto, Canada, talking about this book

Sources:
1. “The annotated Vesalius” Duffin, J; Duffin, J. CMAJ (2014) 186:11, 856-857
2. “A Clever Collector Makes an Astonishing Discovery” Vogrincic, Click here for the article
3. “Vesalius Revised. His Annotations to the 1555 Fabrica” Nutton, V. Med. Hist. (2012), 56(4), 415–443 Click here for the article
4. “Updated Census in USA of First Edition of Andreas Vesalius’ ‘De Humani Corporis Fabrica’ of 1543” Joffe, SN; Buchanan V. International Archives of Medicine; 2015: 8:1
5. “An Updated Census of the Edition of 1555 of Andreas Vesalius’ De Humani Corporis Fabrica in the United States of America” International Archives of Medicine; 2015: 8:1
6. “Vesalius’ notes for unpublished edition of De fabrica” Click here for the website 
7. "A Spectacular New Arrival" Oldfield, P; The Halcyon, Issue 49, June 2012 Click here for the article