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ANDREAS VESALIUS (1514-1564)

 

SO WHO WAS VESALIUS?

Andreas Vesalius was a Belgian physician and anatomist whose work revolutionised anatomy and helped correct many beliefs held since ancient times about how the human body functioned. His important innovations were to perform postmortem dissections and to make use of illustrations in the teaching of anatomy.

 

WHEN DID VESALIUS LIVE?

Vesalius was born in Brussels in 1514. He first attended the University of Louvain and then went to the University of Paris (1533-1536) where he studied medicine and anatomy and then on to complete his studies at the University of Padua where he was awarded his medical degree. He obtained a post of lecturer at the University of Padua and remained there as professor from (1537-1542).

 

HOW DID VESALIUS MAKE HIS DISCOVERIES?

Dissatisfied with the quality of the teaching he felt he had received, Vesalius set out to undertake his own research and observations in order to disprove certain widely held beliefs. At that time, dissection on the human body was illegal and penalties could often be severe. Vesalius, however, was able to carry out a number of postmortem dissections and through these was able to demonstrate that the anatomical teachings of Galen, still highly revered in medical schools, was based on fundamental anatomical errors. Primarily because Galen used findings based on the dissection of animals, as a guide to the workings of the human body.

Vesalius also disproved the Galen theory that men had a rib less than women and Aristotle's theory that the heart was the body's centre of mind and emotion believing instead that it was the brain and the nervous system.

 

WHAT DID VESALIUS DO THEN?

In 1543 Vesalius published his revolutionary book De humani corporis fabrica (On the Structure of the Human Body). Seven volumes in total on the structure of the human body. All were illustrated in detail by artists using Vesalius's own drawings. The book depicted and described several organs such as the thalmus for the first time. Never before had illustrations of this quality been seen in a medical book. It was the most accurate and detailed anatomical text ever to have been produced.

To publicly challenge established thinking was a dangerous business and Vesalius's book encountered much criticism and bitter controversy which led him to totally abandon his anatomical studies. However, his fame led to him being appointed physician to Charles V. After Charles V resigned, his son Philip II appointed Vesalius to his own court of physicians where he stayed for several years until in 1564 on returning from a pilgrimage to the Holy Land his ship was wrecked of the island of Zakinthos.