Posts Tagged ‘history of medicine’
In 2009, researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara performed a curious experiment. In many ways, it was routine — they placed a subject in the brain scanner, displayed some images, and monitored how the subject’s brain responded. The measured brain activity showed up on the scans as red hot spots, like many other neuroimaging studies.
Except that this time, the subject was an Atlantic salmon, and it was dead.
Dead fish do not normally exhibit any kind of brain activity, of course. The study was a tongue-in-cheek reminder of the problems with brain scanning studies…
More on why we should be cautious of the “breakthrough insights” in neuroeconomics, neuromarketing, et al. at “BOLD Assumptions: Why Brain Scans Are Not Always What They Seem.”
As we practice phrenology, we might send thoughtful birthday greetings to John Hughlings Jackson; he was born on this date in 1835. A neurologist, he was one of the first to observe that abnormal mental states may result from structural brain damage; and his studies of epilepsy, speech defects, and nervous-system disorders arising from injury to the brain and spinal cord remain among the most useful and highly documented in the field. Jackson’s definition (in 1873) of epilepsy as “a sudden, excessive, and rapid discharge” of brain cells has been confirmed by electroencephalography; his epilepsy studies initiated the development of modern methods of clinical localization of brain lesions and the investigation of localized brain functions.
Vaccination rates are plummeting at top Hollywood schools, from Malibu to Beverly Hills, from John Thomas Dye to Turning Point, where affluent, educated parents are opting out in shocking numbers (leaving some schools’ immunization rates on par with South Sudan) as an outbreak of potentially fatal whooping cough threatens L.A. like “wildfire”…
Read @GarymBaum’s fascinating– and chilling– story (and find the interactive version of the map above) at “Hollywood’s Vaccine Wars: L.A.’s “Entitled” Westsiders Behind City’s Epidemic.” See also: “The Calculus of Contagion.”
[TotH to Quartz for the pointer]
* Alice Walker
As we steel ourselves for the prick, we might spare a thought for Abraham Flexner; he died on this date in 1959. The founding director of Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Studies, Flexner is best remembered for his pioneering work as a reformer of American higher education, especially medical education. On the heels of his 1908 study, The American College, in which he effectively critiqued the university lecture as a method of instruction, he published the Flexner Report, which examined the state of American medical education and led to far-reaching reform in the training of doctors. The report called on American medical schools to enact higher admission and graduation standards, and to adhere strictly to the protocols of mainstream science in their teaching and research. While one unintended consequence of Flexner’s impactful advocacy was the reversion of American universities to male-only admittance programs to accommodate a smaller admission pool (female admissions picked up again only later the century), most historians agree with his biographer, Thomas Bonner, that Flexner was “the severest critic and the best friend American medicine ever had.”
British engraver and publisher Valentine Green was one of the most accomplished mezzotint engravers in the later 18th and early 19th centuries in England. During his career he produced over four hundred plates after portraits by Reynolds, Romney, and other British artists, and after pictures by Van Dyck, Rubens, Murillo, and other old masters. But on occasion Green turned his hand to more personal projects- like the “abridgment” of Pope’s An Essay on Man, above.
Alexander Pope’s 1734 poem An Essay on Man, a philosophical poem using rationality to try and justify God’s ways to man. Pope’s poem was a particular favorite among the top Enlightenment thinkers of the time, including Kant, Rousseau and Voltaire, the latter[most] calling it “the most beautiful, the most useful, the most sublime didactic poem ever written in any language” (though he would later satirize Pope’s optimism in Candide).
Read more– and see another example of Green’s meditation on ephemerality and vanity– in “Life and Death Contrasted (ca.1770)”
* Alexander Pope, An Essay on Man, Epistle II
As we wonder what ever happened to good old Yorick, we might send memorable birthday greetings to Aloysius “Alois” Alzheimer; he was born on this date in 1864. A psychiatrist and neuropathologist, he was the first to recognize the condition he called “pre-senile dementia”– a progressive, degenerative disorder that begins with short-term memory loss– and to identify the amyloid plaques and neurofibrillary tangles that cause (or at least accompany) it. At the suggestion of his friend and collaborator Emil Kraepelin, the condition was re-named “Alzheimer’s Disease.”
click here for larger, interactive version
In 1960, hospital costs were were 38% of total U.S.healthcare costs; in 2010, they were 37%. But in 1960, hospital costs were $9 billion of a total $23.4 billion in healthcare costs; in 2010, they were $814 billion of a total $2, 186 billion. (Simple inflation, using the CPI as a metric, means that the 1960 figure, in 2010 dollars, would be around $1.8 billion.)
But in many ways more interesting than the growth in the overall total are the changes in how healthcare is financed– in who pays. In 1960, for example, almost 100% of the spending on prescription drugs came out of the consumer’s pocket; by 2010, out-of-pocket spending was down to 20%.
Watch the healthcare economy evolve in the California Healthcare Foundation’s interactive graphic, “U.S. Healthcare Spending: Who Pays?”
As we stock up on supplements, we might spare an anatomically-correct thought for Guillaume-Benjamin-Amand Duchenne (de Boulogne); he died on this date in 1875. Regarded by many to be the “father of modern neurology,” Duchenne developed the first working understanding of the conductivity of neural pathways; he was the first to understand the effect of lesions on these structures; and he innovated diagnostic techniques including deep tissue biopsy, nerve conduction tests, and clinical photography. He’s probably best remembered for identifying the myopathies that came to bear his name: Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, Duchenne-Aran spinal muscular atrophy, Duchenne-Erb paralysis, Duchenne’s disease (Tabes dorsalis), and Duchenne’s paralysis (progressive bulbar palsy).
Mo Costandi, the Neurophilosophy blogger for The Guardian, has created a wonderful side-site, Neuro Images, a collection of pictures of the brain. From the scientific (like the image above) through the historical…
… to the fanciful…
… readers will find a treasure trove at Neuro Images.
[The title of this post is borrowed from the title of Charles Hampden-Turner’s extraordinary survey of theories of consciousness and mind through the ages. It’s sadly out of print at the moment, but readily available used (e.g., here)– and well worth the effort.]
As we wrestle with mental maps, we might spare an incisive thought for William Williams Keen; he died on this date in 1932. A pioneering physician, Keen was the first “brain surgeon” in the U.S.; he successfully removed a brain tumor from a patient in 1887. He was the first physician to perform a decompression of the skull and the first physician in Philadelphia to use Lister’s antiseptic surgical practices. Indeed, in 1892 Keen, with James White, wrote the first American surgery text based on Listerian principles.It was later superseded by Keen’s Surgery its Principles and Practices, which became the “Bible” of American surgeons. Keen is also remembered for having assisted in the now famous secret operation performed on then-President Grover Cleveland in 1893, in which was the Commander-in-Chief’s upper left jaw was removed to rid him of a malignant tumor.
photo: Minden/plainpicture (source)
Many biologists have long believed that, before the point 2.9 billion years ago that the three domains of life emerged, there was no speciation– genetic material of all sorts was freely exchanged in every direction. In this “pre-Darwinian” period, which lasted hundreds of millions of years, there was no “evolution”; rather, cells struggling to survive on their own exchanged useful parts with each other without competition.
Now, as a function of the effort to identify the Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA)– the organism from which all life on earth must be descended– scientists have begun to suspect that all of those cells trading parts were part of a single entity: an enormous mega-organism that filled the planet’s oceans before splitting into three and giving birth to the ancestors of all living things on Earth today.
It was around 2.9 billion years ago that LUCA split into the three domains of life: the single-celled bacteria and archaea, and the more complex eukaryotes that gave rise to animals and plants (see timeline). It’s hard to know what happened before the split. Hardly any fossil evidence remains from this time, and any genes that date that far back are likely to have mutated beyond recognition.
That isn’t an insuperable obstacle to painting LUCA’s portrait, says Gustavo Caetano-Anollés of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. While the sequence of genes changes quickly, the three-dimensional structure of the proteins they code for is more resistant to the test of time. So if all organisms today make a protein with the same overall structure, he says, it’s a good bet that the structure was present in LUCA. He calls such structures living fossils, and points out that since the function of a protein is highly dependent on its structure, they could tell us what LUCA could do…
LUCA had a rich metabolism that used different food sources, and it had internal organelles. So far, so familiar. But its genetics are a different story altogether. For starters, LUCA may not have used DNA. Poole has studied the history of enzymes called ribonucleotide reductases, which create the building blocks of DNA, and found no evidence that LUCA had them (BMC Evolutionary Biology, DOI: 10.1186/1471-2148-10-383). Instead, it may have used RNA: many biologists think RNA came first because it can store information and control chemical reactions.
The crucial point is that LUCA was a “progenote“, with poor control over the proteins that it made, says Massimo Di Giulio of the Institute of Genetics and Biophysics in Naples, Italy. Progenotes can make proteins using genes as a template, but the process is so error-prone that the proteins can be quite unlike what the gene specified. Both Di Giulio and Caetano-Anollés have found evidence that systems that make protein synthesis accurate appear long after LUCA. “LUCA was a clumsy guy trying to solve the complexities of living on primitive Earth,” says Caetano-Anollés…
Only when some of the cells evolved ways of producing everything they needed could the mega-organism have broken apart. We don’t know why this happened, but it appears to have coincided with the appearance of oxygen in the atmosphere, around 2.9 billion years ago. Regardless of the cause, life on Earth was never the same again.
As we rethink the roots of our family trees, we might spare a thought for the Spanish-Arab philosopher, physician, and astronomer known in the West as Averroes; he died on this date in 1198. The most famous of medieval Muslim philosophers, he was an authority on Aristotle, whose thought he defended against the charge that it was an affront to Islam. His Kulliyat fi ab tb (Generalities on Medicine) attempted to codify logically all existing medical knowledge– from organ anatomy and hygiene to the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of diseases– and spread widely via translations. In astronomy, he argued for strictly concentric orbital organization, believing that the motion of the planets had to be around a physical center (the Earth)– thus rejecting Ptolemy’s system of epicycles.
Two out of three ain’t bad.
“The individual with a straw was asked to instruct the blindfolded individual to do a dance routine.”
– Science of Dating: Topics of Conversation
“It can then use this information to change the rhythm of its hair.”
– In Brachiopods’ Eyes, the Theory of Evolution
“The spermatophore executed a surprise attack, penetrating and embedding itself deep in the flesh”
– Self-injecting Squid Sperm
“When the subjects… were sleeping deeply, the researchers played a variety of noises, from a jet engine to an ice machine”
– Brain Waves Foretell Whether We’ll Sleep Soundly
More nifty non sequiturs at Out of Context Science…
As we slip into our lab coats, we might recall that it was on this date in 1867 that Joseph Lister published the first of his series of articles in The Lancet on “The Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery.” Lister, having noticed that carbolic acid (phenol) was used to deodorize sewage, had experimented with using it to spray surgical instruments, surgical incisions, and dressings. The result, he reported, was a substantially reduced incidence of gangrene.