As one looks back on medicine, they see that it is clearly defined by the medical practitioners that pioneered the ideas and procedures that now make up the backbone of modern medicine. From Hippocrates’ theory of the four humors to Louis Pasteur’s ideas of germ theory to Alexander Fleming’s discovery of the antibacterial properties of penicillin, these practitioners and their work have been critical to the way the world currently approaches medicine and healthcare.
One of these key medical practitioners is Gabriel Fallopius. Fallopius was a sixteenth-century Italian anatomist who lived from 1523-1562 (Gabriel 2018). His work on human anatomy makes up much of the basis of modern understanding about the skeletal system, reproductive system, and the prevention of sexually transmitted disease and has paved the way for the current understanding and procedures within these fields.Gabriel Fallopius was born in 1523 to Geronimo and Caterina Falloppio in Modena, a province of modern day Italy.
He was originally educated in the classical arts, but when his father died, his family experienced financial issues and he turned to the church for his career. In 1542 he became a priest and eventually became the canon, which is a position appointed by the bishop of the surrounding area, at the cathedral in Modena (Gabriel, The Holy See, and Whonamedit 2018).
After his family finances were in order, he studied medicine under Niccolo Machella where he began to dissect bodies. He then studied under other medical practitioners and anatomists at the time including Giovanni Battista de Monte, Matteo Realdo Colombo, Andreas Vesalius, Antonio Musa Brasavola, and Giambattista Canano (Whonamedit 2018).
Once he completed his training, he went to the University of Ferrara where he became a teacher of anatomy and held the Chair of Pharmacy. After his work in the University of Ferrara, Fallopius went to the University of Pisa where he took up the Chair in Anatomy from 1548 to 1551 which was followed up by him taking the Chair in Anatomy at the University of Padua from 1551 to 1562 (Gabriel and Whonamedit 2018).
During this time in 1561, he published his book the Observationes Anatomicae, which was written as a commentary his mentor, Andreas Vesalius’ book De Humani Corporis Fabrica which includes his notes and descriptions on the skeletal and female reproductive system including his description of the fallopian tubes (Sophia 2018).
After this, he soon fell ill and on October 9, 1562, he died of pleurisy in Padua. (Gabriel and Whonamedit 2018). After his death, five books, which were collections of his notes and descriptions, were published. These books are Expositio in librum Galeni de ossibus, Observationes de venis, De humani corporis anatome compendium, De partibus similaribus humani corporis, and Secreti diversi et miraculis (Whonamedit 2018).
One of the key aspects that defined Gabriel Fallopius work is the time period he lived in. Fallopius lived during the Renaissance which occurred from 1350-1650 AD. During this time, the common cause of disease was thought to have been an imbalance of the four humors, which were blood, phlegm, yellow bile, and black bile (Gill 2017).
Each of these humors was tied to an element and certain qualities. Blood was related to air and was considered hot and moist, phlegm was linked to water and was cold and moist, yellow bile was connected to fire and was hot and dry, and black bile was associated with earth and was cold and dry (Gill 2017). Conditions were treated by using remedies that were from the opposite humor.
If a person had a condition that was thought to be caused by blood, which is hot and moist, it would be treated with remedies associated with black bile, which is cold and dry (Gill 2017). Medicine at this time also began to become separated from the church which led to an increase in the dissection of cadavers as well as more accurate anatomical drawings and descriptions such as those done by Fallopius and Leonardo Da Vinci.
The renaissance also led to the introduction of improvements in medical practices and understanding, such as the practice of dressing a wound during surgery instead of cauterizing it to stop blood flow, and explanations of disease transmission (History 2018). Although these new advancements were being discovered, they were still often rejected, and superstitions and traditional practices such as bloodletting and leeches were still being implemented (Intro to Healthcare and EuroHistoryMed 2012).
Fallopius’ contributions to the medical field were vast and covered many body systems. Many of these contributions were discovered through the dissection of cadavers, which are human corpses. These cadavers would not only those of adults, but also those of fetuses, newborns, and young children (Whonamedit 2018).
One of the body systems that Fallopius greatly contributed to was the skeletal system with contributions including descriptions of the semicircular canals which are fluid-filled bones in the ear that are responsible for balance and descriptions on the development of bones.
Fallopius also described the formation of the bone of the sternum through ossification, the primary dentition of teeth during infancy, and the change from primary (baby) teeth to permanent (adult) teeth. He also disproved the belief that teeth and bones develop from the same tissue and Aristotle’s claim that the bones of a lion are solid and contain no bone marrow (Whonamedit 2018).
Fallopius work also greatly contributed to the modern understanding of the reproductive system. Within this system, Fallopius discovered and gave the first description of the fallopian tubes which connect the ovaries to the uterus, allow for ovulation and pregnancy, and are subsequently named after him.
He also described and provided the scientific names for the vagina, placenta, and clitoris, and disproved that the penis enters the uterus during intercourse (Gabriel and Whonamedit 2018). Fallopius also contributed to the understanding of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and their prevention. His work on STDs primarily focused on syphilis as it had been rapidly spreading at that time.
This was done through a study Fallopius conducted where he had 1,100 men use a contraceptive of his design during intercourse and observed to see if they later developed syphilis. The contraceptive he constructed consisted of a sheath that went over the penis that was held in place by a bow. When his trial concluded, none the men had developed the disease. (Whonamedit 2018).Gabriel Fallopius’ work has had a profound effect on the current state of modern medicine and healthcare.
First, his work on the skeletal system has allowed for a modern understanding of conditions that affect the bones such as osteoporosis. It has also lead to a greater understanding of the development of the bones and teeth from infancy to adulthood. Within the reproductive system, his work has allowed for advancements in fields and procedures that involve the female reproductive system such as gynecology and childbirth.
Lastly, his studies pertaining to the prevention of syphilis has led to modern measures for prevention against sexually transmitted diseases through developments such as the latex condom and education about protected intercourse. His discoveries have led to the betterment of mankind and his accomplishments have made it clear that he is an influential figure in the history medicine.
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