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Monday, 9 October 2017

Gabriele Falloppio – anatomist and physician

Professor made key discoveries about human reproduction   


Gabriele Falloppio advanced knowledge of medicine significantly
Gabriele Falloppio advanced knowledge
of medicine significantly
Gabriele Falloppio, one of the most important physicians and anatomists of the 16th century, died on this day in 1562 in Padua.

Often known by his Latin name Fallopius, he lived only 39 years yet made his mark with a series of discoveries that expanded medical knowledge significantly.

He worked mainly on the anatomy of the head and the reproductive organs in both sexes and is best known for identifying the tubes that connect the ovaries to the uterus, which are known even today as Fallopian tubes.

He also discovered several major nerves of the head and face, and identified many of the components of the hearing and balance systems.

Falloppio described all of the findings of his research in a book published a year before he died, entitled Observationes anatomicae.

Educated initially in the classics, the death of his father plunged his family – noble but not wealthy – into financial difficulties, prompting him to pursue the security of a career in the church, becoming a priest in 1542. He served as a canon at the cathedral in his native Modena.

Falloppio retained an ambition to study medicine, however, and when the family’s finances had improved sufficiently he enrolled at the University of Ferrara, which at the time had one of the best medical schools in Europe.

A painting shows Falloppio (left) explaining one of his  discoveries to the Cardinal Duke of Ferrara and other clergy
A painting shows Falloppio (left) explaining one of his
discoveries to the Cardinal Duke of Ferrara and other clergy
He studied under Antonio Musa Brassavolo, who at the time was one of the most eminent physicians in Europe, with a list of illustrious clients that included King Henry VIII of England, Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, the French king Francis I and a succession of popes.

After receiving his doctorate in medicine, he worked at various medical schools before becoming professor of anatomy at Ferrara in 1548.  A year later, he was invited to occupy the chair of anatomy at the University of Pisa.

Falloppio gained much of his knowledge from dissecting cadavars, not only those of adult humans but children and animals.  During his time at Pisa he was falsely accused of human vivisection, but despite the cloud this cast over him he was appointed to the prestigious chair of anatomy at the University of Padua, where he would remain until his death from tuberculosis.

The Flemish anatomist Andreas Vesalius was among his predecessors in the Padua chair.  It was the work of Vesalius that prompted a surge of interest in dissections and probably inspired Falloppio, who studied the observations of his predecessor in great detail and sought to build on them.

The title page of Falloppio's book of Anatomical Observations
 The title page of Falloppio's book
of Anatomical Observations
Despite his short working life, he left an enormous legacy of research.

He carried out investigations on the larynx and on respiration, and made important discoveries about bone growth. He described the ethmoid bone, the lacrimal duct, and his description of the middle and inner ear includes the first clear account of the round and oval windows, the cochlea, the semi-circular canals, and the scala vestibuli and tympani.

In the area of reproduction, as well as being the first to identify the Fallopian tubes, he proved the existence of the hymen in virgins, gave names to many features of the reproductive anatomy and disproved many popular notions about the mechanics of the reproductive process.

He can also be credited with inventing one of the earliest condoms, a sheath made from linen soaked in a medicinal chemical to be worn to protect the wearer from contracting syphilis.

Falloppio published two treatises on ulcers and tumors, a treatise on surgery, and a commentary on Hippocrates's book on wounds of the head.  He also researched the science of baths and thermal waters and of purgatives, and put forward important theories about the formation of fossils.

The anatomical theatre at the University of Padua
The anatomical theatre at the University of Padua
Travel tip:

The University of Padua includes nine museums, a botanical garden – best visited in the spring and summer – and the oldest surviving permanent anatomical theatre in Europe, built in around 1595 and which used to hold public dissections, which attracted scientists and artists in large numbers, keen to enhance their knowledge of the human body.

Statues line the canal in the elliptical Prato della Valle
Statues line the canal in the elliptical Prato della Valle
Travel tip:

The city of Padua, situated in the Veneto a 30-45 minute train ride from Venice and an hour and a half from the international airport at Treviso, is most famous for the Giotto frescoes at the Scrovegni Chapel and for the Basilica of St Anthony of Padua. Both attract thousands of visitors and the Scrovegni Chapel requires advance booking.  The city itself is an attractive place to explore, with a wealth of fine, historic buildings to discover along its pleasant arcaded streets, as well as the beautiful Prato della Valle, the 90,000-square metre elliptical square with an island in its centre surrounded by a canal bordered by 78 statues.








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