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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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Holly leaf sign

The Holly is a tree/shrub of the genus Ilex , with perhaps the most well know being Ilex aquifolium. The plant has shiny prickly evergreen leaves and bright red berries. Cut branches of Holly are widely used as a traditionally Christmas decoration especially in wreaths and Christmas cards as illustrations. “The Holly and the Ivy” is a popular traditional English Christmas carol.

The [Holly leaf sign] refers to the appearance of calcified pleural plaques seen on chest radiographs. Pleural plaques are common in patients who have been exposed to asbestos, are asymptomatic and are most useful as a marker of asbestos exposure or asbestosis. They can be identified in 3-14% of dockyard workers and in 58% in insulation workers.

They are themselves not malignant, but patients with this plaques have a greater risk of mesothelioma and bronchogenic cancer than the general population and patients with exposed to asbestos but not pleural plaques.

Holly leaf sign - Case radiograph courtesy of Dr Çağlayan Çakır, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 22986Holly leaf sign.
Click on the image for a larger depiction

The plaques arise in the parietal pleura and have predilection for the diaphragmatic dome and the undersurface of the lower posterolateral ribs. Rarely involve the visceral pleura but occasionally they are found in the fissures of the lungs.

On plain radiographic plaques appear as a geographic, usually calcified, opacities with irregular but well-defined edges. The irregular thickened nodular edges of the pleural plaques are likened to appearance of a Holly leaf, which has sharp spines along its margin.

Sources:
1. Jane R, Gulati A., Dwivedi R., Avula S., Curtis J., Abernethy L. (2013) We wish you a Merry X-Ray-mas: Christmas signs in radiology. BMJ 347:f7020 doi: 10.1136/bmj.f7020
2. Walker C., Takasugi J., Chung J., Reddy, G., Done S., Pipavath S., Schmidt R., Godwin J. (2012). Tumor-like Conditions of the Pleura. Radiographics 32:971–985.
3. Case radiograph courtesy of Dr Çağlayan Çakır, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 22986

Figure below. Ilex aquifolium. Courtesy of A.Prof Frank Gaillard, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 12398

Holly leaf sign - Ilex aquifolium. Courtesy of A.Prof Frank Gaillard, Radiopaedia.org. From the case rID: 12398
Holly leaf sign.
Click on the image for a larger depiction

Article submitted by: Prof. Claudio R. Molina, MsC..