Timeline of Discovery
Since the formation of cognitive thought, humans have been trying to make sense of their surroundings and their very own body. A lot of advancements have been made, some through medical discoveries, some through unintentional means. Each advancement has brought us to a closer understanding of our complex organism, the human body. We are still far from learning everything there is to know. Can you believe we are still making discoveries? Just in 2018 with the discovery of the Interstitium, a potential new organ in the human body, which could tell us more about how disease travels from organ to organ. If you find that amazing, I would have to agree with you.
It is a great pleasure of mine to research all I can in the efforts of having patients better understand their bodies and medicine. In this blog, we are diving into the timeline of human discovery, we are going to attempt to gain more understanding about their systems and their functions. I was raised with the philosophy; “if you failed to know your history one would be doomed to repeat”. It is with that in mind we will tackle the human body in hopefully a fun, and educational way.
We have parked the Delorean just outside and if you have a seat we will begin.
It is also interesting to know that for a majority of our human history; mankind has felt that death was sacred and the bodies of the deceased should not be dissected.
We are first going to discuss the happenings at the start of our timeline, which will bring us to Greece around 300 B.C.
325 B.C- 225 B.C. Herophilus- Nervous System -
While dissection was frowned upon and considered taboo, Herophilus made some amazing discoveries doing so. He was able to identify veins and nerves. One such story states that he followed a nerve to the brain and birthed the idea of our nervous system. Herophilus was called the father of Anatomy and had many theories that went against the modern thoughts of the time. Herophilus is considered to belong to the group, the great Greek physicians.
300 B.C. Aristotle- Urinary and Excretory -
Though the human body and its ability to process and remove waste may not be new, some great minds sought to better understand these functions.
Another of the great Greek physicians was Aristotle. Aristotle was the first to identify correctly the purpose of the kidney along with the role inside the human body.
According to Aristotle, the kidney had two functions, to separate the surplus liquid from blood and to modify this liquid which will be eliminated. Many other thinkers had ideas regarding the kidney and its function benefiting from Aristotle's research. He wrote two books on this and other subjects after studying a variety of animals and humans. Aristotle had a great understanding of the human body and is considered one of the greatest thinkers in human history.
1500 A.D. Vesalius- Skeletal and Muscular-
A young Flemish Vesalius realized that the medical books written by Galen had gotten more than a few things wrong. Galen's works were the main source of information at the time relating to anatomy. Vesalius's main reasoning was Galen did not dissect humans, only animals.
Thanks to a judge in northern Italy, Padua, and his fascination with Vesalius’s work an interesting deal was made. The judge allowed Vesalius to perform dissections on convicts and felons. A majority of what we know about the skeletal and muscular system came from this deal. Vesalius had a steady supply of cadavers from the gallows and made a lot of remarkable medical discoveries. Vesalius arrived in Basle in January 1543, where he continued to dissect. The skeleton he constructed from the bones of an executed criminal, Jacob Karrar, is still preserved in the Anatomy Museum of Basle's University. Thanks to Vesalius, medical science now required facts ascertained by dissection rather than theory and imagination. Changing and revolutionizing the way medical science would be perceived and practiced. In 1543 he published: De Humani Corporis Fabrica, which means the fabric of the human body.
1600 A.D. Olaus Rudbeck- Lymphatic -
As a young student at Uppsala University, he began dissecting small animals with great diligence and found a lymphatic connection between the intestines and the circulating blood, leading to prepared nutrients via the thoracic duct to the veins. By Applying ligatures (pressure) to the lymphatic vessels he could observe the direction of the flow. While a few other great minds had ideas about the lymphatic system Olaus Rudbeck was the first physician to present his findings to the queen of Sweden, she then became a great supporter of his work. To facilitate his studies of human anatomy, he had a cupola built on top of Gustvianum, a university edifice, and in it was built an arena-like "Theatrum Anatomicum", where dissection could be carried out in front of students.
1616 A.D. William Harvey - Circulatory -
English physician who was the first to recognize the full circulation of the blood in the human body and to provide experiments and arguments to support this idea.
Harvey made his discoveries by ignoring the conventional wisdom of medical textbooks, preferring to make his conclusions when he dissected animals. Remarkably, western medical beliefs and theories about blood circulation had advanced very little since Galen wrote his medical textbooks in Rome 1400 years earlier.
1632 A.D. Antonj Van Leeuwenhoek - Reproductive -
Leeuwenhoek was born in the Netherlands. He would become the unexpected father of microbiology.
Leeuwenhoek began his scientific career by assembling simple microscopes and magnifying glasses. He eventually became a skilled craftsman in the intricate shaping microscope lenses. Although the purpose of the magnifying glasses were for textiles, Leeuwenhoek soon was amazed by what was presented through magnification.
The techniques Leeuwenhoek developed for shaping glass allowed him to develop instruments that resolved images more clearly, and magnified more powerfully than anything else that would be developed for nearly another century. This lens allowed him to see “cells” and “bacteria”.
It was with these tools he turned to human reproduction, though many tried he was the first to see spermatozoa which he identified as animalcules.
The secret of how he could get the glass to magnify would follow Leeuwenhoek to the grave.
1790-1850 A.D. William Beaumont - Digestive -
Beaumont was the first to study human digestion as it takes place in the stomach. In 1822 while serving as the U.S. Army Surgeon was summoned to treat a 19-year-old Alexis St Martin a french trapper who had an accident involving a shotgun blast. The shot removed a sizable amount of the abdominal wall of the interior stomach. Beaumont did not expect the young man to survive but against his expectations, the trapper lived.
Over a year of healing, a gastric fistula formed. When the opening was depressed with a finger, Beaumont was able to observe activities occurring within the young man’s stomach. Dr. Beaumont ended up hiring St. Martin as a handyman and kept an eye on him.
For three years he studied St Martin by gathering samples of gastric juice, or tieing food to a string and removing for the stomach every couple of hours.
Beaumont discovered it is a chemical reaction that breaks down food not a mechanical one, which was a common thought of the time.
In 1833 published Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the physiology of Digestion, where he discussed his findings.
1895 A.D. Francis H. Williams - Respiratory-
with the discovery of the X-ray medical doctors like Francis H Williams's use of fluoroscopy for early detection of tuberculosis and other life-threatening chest disorders. By the summer of 1896, he had accumulated more than 100 volumes containing tracings of clinical chest fluoroscopy. As a result of his extensive clinical experience, his dedication to patients' welfare, and his sense of scientific inquiry, several inventions and many landmark clinical observations were made in the first few years after the discovery of the X-ray. One of which was the invention of a "densitometer" for standardized measurements of relative X-ray attenuation of the lung.
1896 A.D. Ernest Starling - Endocrine-
British physiologist whose contributions to a modern understanding of body functions, especially the maintenance of a fluid balance throughout the tissues, the regulatory role of endocrine secretions, and mechanical controls on heart function, made him the leading expert on the subject. Starling was able to deliver clarification of the nature of fluid exchanges between vessels and tissues. Starling’s hypothesis stated that, because the capillary wall may be considered a semipermeable membrane, allowing salt solutions to pass freely through it, the hydro-static pressure forcing these solutions into tissues is balanced by the osmotic pressure—generated by colloidal (protein) solutions trapped in the capillary—forcing an absorption of fluid from the tissues.
1900’s A.D. scientific consensus on the Integumentary System-
The integumentary system, formed by the skin, hair, nails, and associated glands, enwraps the body. Integument comes from the Latin word integumentum, meaning "cover" or "enclosure." In animals and plants, an integument is any natural outer covering, such as skin, shell, membrane, or husk. The human integumentary system is an external body covering, but also much more. It protects, nourishes, insulates, and cushions. It is essential to life. Without it, an individual would be attacked immediately by bacteria and die from heat and water loss.
1992- Raphael Mecholum - Endocannabinoid System-
Mecholum’s laboratory has worked on the chemistry, pharmacology and clinical effects of natural products (including cannabis) for over 50 years. They have isolated numerous cannabinoids, including the active constituent of cannabis, delta9-THC, and elucidated its structure. They have also identified endogenous cannabinoids in the pig brain. These fatty acid derivatives, named anandamide and 2-AG, are the agonists of a major new biological system called the endocannabinoid system. Most of his current research focuses on the numerous anandamide-like compounds in the mammalian body, many of which are involved in basic biological reactions, such as bone formation, vasodilation, head trauma, addiction, etc. they have also developed novel cannabinoids and anandamide-like compounds which are being developed as drugs by pharma companies. The endocannabinoid system is becoming known for bringing balance to our general wellness and health.
We may never truly know everything about the human body, we see that there are constant growth and understanding of the systems there within. It is also seen that we as humans are constantly growing and learning and I am very humbled by our advancements.
My hope to always have an open mind and appreciation for the growth of science. We saw how long it took from 300 b.c. to 1500 a.d. to make any solid anatomical discoveries. perception and feelings got in the way of science and progress. It is similar, small thinking that is keeping us from learning everything we can about our bodies, and more importantly our endocannabinoid system.
Your symptoms are more important than stigma.