Hieronymus Fabricius “The Father of Embryology”


Hieronymus Fabricius was an Italian born in Acquapendente, Latium,  in 1533. He died in his Villa, La Montagnola, in 1619 at the age of 86. His father was Fabrico Fabrici. The family is said to have been noble and once-wealthy, but in decline at the time of Fabrici’s youth, though not impoverished. He studied Latin, logic, and philosophy, and then medicine in Padua for nine years, and took his degree in medicine and philosophy in about 1559.

He mostly studied Anatomy, Physiology, Embryology but also studied Surgery. He published his anatomical observations in several volumes, including De visione, voce, auditu (Venice, 1600), De venarum ostiolis (1603), which contains systematic and accurate descriptions of the venous valves ex novo, De motu locali animalium secundum totum (1618)–all of which may be considered as parts of the uncompleted but monumental Totius animalis fabricae theatrum which he meant to publish and to which he devoted many years. Fabrici was one of the creators of comparative anatomy. Fabrici’s embryological works included De formato foetu (1604), and De formatione (1621).His surgical works were gathered in the Pentateuchos cheirurgicum (Frankfurt,1592) and in The Operationes chirurgicae (Venice, 1619).

By dissecting animals, Fabricius investigated the formation of the fetus, the structure of the esophagus, stomach and intestines, and the peculiarities of the eye, the ear, and the larynx. He was the first to describe the membranous folds that he called “valves” in the interior of veins. These valves are now understood to prevent retrograde flow of blood within the veins, thus facilitating antegrade flow of blood towards the heart, though Fabricius did not understand their role at that time. It was Harvey who then built upon this knowledge in his own research of the heart.

In his Tabulae Pictae, first published in 1600, Fabricius described the cerebral fissure separating the temporal lobe from the frontal lobe. However, Fabricius’s discovery was not recognized until recently. Instead, Danish anatomist Caspar Bartholin credits Franciscus Sylvius with the discovery, and Bartholin’s son Thomas named it the Sylvian fissure in the 1641 edition of the textbook Institutiones anatomicae. However, it is clear that Fabricius’s work proceeded Sylvius’s.

Much of Fabricius’s work became a foundation which other thinkers worked from. This meant that Fabricius himself went unnoticed in his time and largely goes unnoticed even in ours, but his importance is profound. He demonstrates the nature of medical research; the way that we build off from the knowledge that was discovered by those who came before us. With his discoveries, he opened the door to greater things.

The Bursa of Fabricius (the site of hematopoiesis in birds) is named after Fabricius. A manuscript entitled De Formatione Ovi et Pulli, found among his lecture notes after his death, was published in 1621. It contains the first description of the bursa (a fluid filled sac surrounding tissue that prevents friction).

Fabricius contributed much to the field of surgery. Though he never actually performed a tracheotomy, his writings include descriptions of the surgical technique. He favored using a vertical incision and was the first to introduce the idea of a tracheostomy tube. This was a straight, short cannula that incorporated wings to prevent the tube from disappearing into the trachea. He recommended the operation only as a last resort, to be used in cases of airway obstruction by foreign bodies or secretions. Fabricius’s description of the tracheotomy procedure is similar to that used today.

Julius Casserius published his own writings regarding technique and equipment for tracheotomy. Casserius recommended using a curved silver tube with several holes in it. Marco Aurelio Severino (1580–1656), a skillful surgeon and anatomist, performed at least one tracheotomy during a diphtheria epidemic in Naples in 1610, using the vertical incision technique recommended by Fabricius.

Fabricius published De formatione ovi et pulli (On the Formation of the Egg and of the Chick). This research was done on birds and is seemingly unrelated to human anatomy, but his discoveries went far in advancing our understanding of the development of the fetus. He was unable to research living human fetuses for obvious ethical reasons and the lacking availability of fetal cadavers is what led him to animal research.

In addition to describing the fetus of a bird at various stages of development and including illustrations of his work, Fabricius helped to establish embryology as an independent study. He also introduced the term ovarium into embryological literature, although he used the term in application to both the ovary and the oviduct. Fabrici’s investigations into the development of the chick and the egg are important artifacts of the changing anatomical and embryological conceptions of his time and are also indicative of the lasting influences of Aristotle and Galen.

He was a student of Gabriele Falloppio who had been a student of Vesalius. He was a private teacher of anatomy in Padua, 1562-1565, and he continued to give some private courses thereafter. Professor of surgery and anatomy, 1565-1613, initially with a salary of 100 florins, raised to 200 in 1571, and later to 400, 600, 850, and 1100. In 1600 he was given the salary of 1000 scudi (which were more than florins) for life. He was given life tenure in 1600, with the title sopraordinario. In 1594 he revolutionized the teaching of anatomy when he designed the first permanent theater for public anatomical dissections.

Julius Casserius (1552–1616) of Piacenza was among Fabricius’ students. William Harvey (1578–1657) and Adriaan van den Spiegel (1578–1625) also studied under Fabricius, beginning around 1598. Julius Casserius would later succeed Fabricius as Professor of Anatomy at the University of Padua in 1604, and Adriaan van den Spiegel succeeded Casserius in that position in 1615. One of Fabricius’s more important historical roles in history was his role as the teacher to so many important thinkers. It is difficult to believe that their education did not have some bearing on their success and historical importance.

From 1570-1584 he was a member of the commission that examined surgeons for licenses. Fabrici was consulted by the Duke of Mantua in 1581, by the Duke of Urbino in 1591, and was called to Florence by the Grand Duke in 1604 to attend his son. In Florence he was given two golden chains in recompense. The King of Poland consulted him by mail, and sent him a gold chain and a gold medal. Fabrici practiced medicine as a surgeon and physician, and he amassed a fortune from his practice and from his academic appointment. In 1514 he was able to entertain a Venetian patrician, Morosini, at his country villa in a style sufficiently lavish that Morosini described it at length. He charged his wealthy patrons nothing–and received extravagant gifts from them in return. He treated the poor gratis. Fabrici left an estate of 200,000 ducats.

It is said that he studied in Padua under patronage of the patrician Loredan Family from 1550 to 1559. However, Fabrici never mentioned this family, but in his will he did mention five other patrician families as his patrons. As a surgeon and physician he enjoyed the patronage of many eminent people. He was consulted by the Duke of Urbino in 1591, and treated the son of Ferdinand I and Christina di Lorena. He visited Venice with Spigelio in 1607, and in Venice he cured Paolo Sarpi, who had been wounded. For his services, he was made a knight of St. Mark by the Republic of Venice. Fabrici dedicated De venarum ostiolis to the German nation (in Padua) and received two silver cups from them. In 1600 he dedicated the three parts of De visione, voce, auditu to the three patricians who had secured his appointment to be sopraordinario, and he dedicated other words to other Venetian patricians. He dedicated De locutione, 1601, to the Polish magnate Thoms Zamoyski and Opere chirurgica to the King of Poland.

References and Further Reading:

  1. Hieronymus Fabricius
  2. de formatione ovi et pulli
  3. De locutione et eius instrumentis liber
  4. The Galileo Project
  5. Revolvy
  6. olim anatomici patavini celeberrimi de
  7. wikivisually
  8. Gallica
  9. wikiwand
  10. britannica
  11. like2do
  12. catholicism academic
  13. Health Science Library System
  14. omics group
  15. Vaulted Treasures
  16. Lure of Medical History
  17. wow
  18. scihi
  19. nndb
  20. The Divide Between Medicine and Surgery
  21. The Bursa of Hieronymus Fabrici d’Acquapendente: Past and Present of an Anatomical Structure
  22. The history of tracheotomy
  23. wikidot
  24. wikidot2
  25. wikidot3
  26. todayinsci
  27. embryo.asu.edu
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Posted on May 18, 2017, in Education and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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