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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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Theo Dirix

Theo Dirix is an author and taphophile. He has successively held the office of Consul in Embassies of Belgium in Tanzania, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Canada, the United Arab Emirates and, since 2011, Greece. Before 1989, he worked for the Flemish Radio 3 and commented on (mainly Moroccan) literature. He is constantly writing travel stories of his visits to cemeteries and graves.

Theo Dirix became directly involved in the quest to find the grave of Andreas Vesalius on the island of Zakynthos in Greece and as the Consul of Belgium was critical to the realization of the 2014 Vesalius Continuum meeting on the same island.

Theo Dirix

The same year (2014) Theo Dirix published his book "IN SEARCH OF ANDREAS VESALIUS; The Quest for the lost grave", a detailed story of the process of zeroing on the location of the grave, the politics of the island tourism, and the history and research on Vesalius' death.

Andreas Vesalius did not die returning from Jerusalem on a deserted beach in the Ionian Sea, the only victim of a shipwreck. He did not travel to the Holy Land under pressure of the Inquisition, neither as penance nor escape: he went there as a devout pilgrim with the support of his employer. Weakened by his stay and by his unfortunate return journey, he died in Zakynthos where he was buried in the Santa Maria delle Grazie Church. This and many other details are found in his book and research.

Thanks to Theo Dirix for collaborating with "Medical Terminology Daily" with the article "In Search of Andreas Vesalius, The Quest for the Lost Grave - The Sequel" which he co-authored with Pascale Pollier and Dr. Sylviane Déderix.

Following are some links to Theo Dirix's articles on the Internet:

The Quest for Andreas Vesalius' Grave
Visiting a cemetery
Theo Dirix at Academia.edu