Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community. We post anatomical, medical or surgical terms, their meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History

Jean-Louis Petit

Jean Louis Petit
(1674 – 1750)

French surgeon and anatomist, Jean Louis Petit was born in Paris in on March 13, 1674.  His family rented an apartment at his house to Alexis Littre (1658 – 1726), a French anatomist. Petit became an apprentice of Littre at seven years of age, helping him in the dissections for his lectures and at an early age became the assistant in charge of the anatomic amphitheater.

Because of Petit’s dedication to anatomy and medicine, in 1690 at the age of sixteen, became a disciple of a famous Paris surgeon, Castel.

In 1692, Petit entered the French army and performed surgery in two military campaigns. By 1693 he started delivering lectures and was accepted as a great surgeon, being invited to the most difficult operations.  In 1700 he was appointed Chief Surgeon of the Military School in Paris and in the same year he received the degree of Master of Surgery from the Faculty of Paris.

In 1715 he was made a member of the Royal Academy of Sciences and an honorary member of the Royal Society of London. He was appointed by the King as the first Director General of the Royal Academy of Surgery when it was founded in 1731.

Petit’s written works are of historical importance.  “Traite des Maladies des Os” ( A Treatise on Bone Diseases);  “Traite des Maladies Chirurgicales et des Operation” (A Treatise on Surgical Diseases and their Operations” This last book was published posthumously in 1774. He also published a monograph on hemorrhage, another on lachrymal fistula, and others.

He was one of the first to perform choIecystotomy and mastoidotomy. His original tourniquet design for amputations saved many in the battlefield and the design of the same surgical instrument today has not changed much since its invention by him.

His name is remembered in the lumbar triangle, also called the "triangle of Petit", and the abdominal hernia that can ensue through that area of weakness, the lumbar hernia or "Petit's hernia".

Sources:
1. “Jean Louis Petit – A Sketch of his Life, Character, and Writings” Hayne, AP San Fran Western Lancet 1875 4: 446-454
2. “Oeuvres compl?tes de Jean-Louis Petit” 1837 Imprimerie de F. Chapoulaud
3. Extraits de l'eloge de Jean-Louis Petit Ius dans Ia seance publique de I' Academie royale de chirurgie du 26 mai 1750” Louis A. Chirurgie 2001: 126 : 475- 81


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Vesalius' New Fabrica

Andreas Vesalius opus magnus was the creation and the publication of his book “De Humani Corporis Fabrica, Libri Septem" (Seven books on the structure of the human body). This book was published on May 26th, 1543 by the printing press of Johannes Oporinus.

Much has been said and written about this book and the influence of Vesalius’ work on scientific thinking, the scientific method, and the displacement of dogmatic thinking based on the works of the ancient Greeks and Galen of Pergamon (129AD - 200AD) for a different view of the construction of the body based on direct and empirical observation.

Unfortunately, because of Vesalius’ following of Erasmus’ teachings on Latin, the book was written in a very difficult and circumvoluted language which made it difficult to understand. In addition, the book was very expensive for the times, with an estimated maximum printing of 600 copies. Were it not for the images and the captions, as well as the many plagiarized versions of the Fabrica in different languages, Vesalius opus magnus would have been lost to history. Harvey Cushing wrote in his Vesalius bio-bibliography of 1943:”As a book, the Fabrica has been probably more admired and less read than any publication of equal significance in the history of science”.

Although several attempts have been done to translate the Fabrica, most of the works have been incomplete, or have tried to paraphrase or correct Vesalius’ words, leaving us with a watered-down image of the author and his intent.

In 1993 Drs. Daniel H Garrison and Malcom H. Hast began a collaboration to translate the Fabrica of Vesalius. The 20- year story of how they obtained federal grants, discussed the translation, found a publisher, scanned and improved on the original images of the Fabrica, and how they even worked with Christian Mengelt to create a new typography for an annotated new Fabrica, was part of their presentation on the interdisciplinary symposium “Vesalius and the Invention of the Modern Body” hosted by the St. Louis University and the Washington University February 26-28, 2015.

Drs. Hast and Garrison with the two volumes of the new Fabrica
Drs. Hast, Miranda, and Garrison with the  new Fabrica
Title pages of the new Fabrica with the authors' signatures
This annotated new Fabrica is a translation of the 1543 first edition with comments on the 1555 second edition and it also includes passages and comments from a heavily edited 1555 second edition that has side margins comments and corrections now certified to be in Vesalius’ own handwriting. This book has been speculated to have been Vesalius’ personal copy and probably the basis of a potential third edition. This particular book is now known as "Vesalius' Annotated Fabrica"

The "New Fabrica" was published in 2013 by Karger Publishing, a company based in Basel, Switzerland, the same city where the original Fabrica was published in 1543. The ISBN is 978-3-318-02246-9. Only 948 books were published and it has now been sold out. Because of the demand, an original is now considered a rare book.

Daniel H. Garrison received his degrees from Harvard (A.B. Classics, 1959) and Berkeley (PhD Comparative Literature, 1968). He was a member of the Classics Department at Northwestern University from 1966 until his retirement in 2010. 

Malcolm H. Hast is Professor Emeritus of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery – and also past Professor of Cell and Molecular Biology (Anatomy) at Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University. He is Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science as well as Fellow of the Anatomical Society (UK) and a Chartered Biologist and Fellow of the Society of Biology (UK). He is also a recipient of The Gould International Award in Laryngology and a NATO Senior Fellowship in Science.

Personal note: I am honored to have met both Drs. Garrison and Hast at the symposium, shared some of the stories behind the new Fabrica and have them sign my own copy of this incredible book. Dr. Miranda

Sources:
1. "A Bio-blibliography of Andreas Vesalius" Cushung, H. 1943 Saunders

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