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Biographical Information

Andreas Vesalius was born on 31st December 1514. He was born and raised in Brussels, Belgium. During this time, Belgium was a part of the Roman Empire and members of Andreas Vesalius’s family were famous for being physicians since both his father and grandfather were physicians (Vesalius et. al 23). His father and grandfather had served as physicians for the Roman emperor. He learnt medicine in Paris but had to leave prior to completion of his degree because of the war between France and Roman Empire. Before moving to Padua, he enrolled at the University of Louvain to pursue his doctorate degree. He completed the studies in 1537 and became the chair of anatomy and surgery. These were areas that were regarded less significant when compared with other areas of medicine.

On the other handpart, Vesalius believed that it was important to include surgery into anatomy (Vesalius et. al 73). He took the role of performing dissections and production of anatomical charts of blood and nervous system to provide better teaching methods for  students. These charts were famous and were widely replicated. When he discovered that most of his paintings were copied, he decided to publish them in ‘Tabulae Anatomicae Sex’ article. When a number of copies of this publication reached France. In addition, he lectured as a visiting lecturer at Bologna and Pisa. Initially, Anatomy and Surgery were only being taught from reading classic materials, and then animals were dissected by a surgeon, who worked under the directions of a lecturer. The claims of Galen were not checked as they were regarded unassailable.

In 1938, Vesalius created an article that could assist in treatment of any illness, despite the debate regarding where the blood could be taken from. The basic Greek requirement was that blood should be let from an area located near the illness. On the other part, Muslim and other practitioners recommended that blood should be let from a distant area. The pamphlet published by Vesalius supported Galen’s vies by use of anatomical illustrations.

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Most people were interested in Vesaluis’s work. For instance, Paduan judge supplied Vesaluis with the bodies of criminals, who were executed to carry out dissection (Spielvogel 11). This likeness for his work inspired Vesaluis to make detailed diagrams, produced by the artists, which were consequently of higher quality in comparison to the previously produced ones.

In 1541, he discovered that the main focus of Galen’s work was the animal anatomy instead of the human, following a ban on dissection in Rome. Galen’s work argued that they were similar to those of humans.  Then Vesalius published an article that opposed Galen’s work. Initially, before disapproving the work, it had gone beyond doubt as the best way of understanding human anatomy. On the other hand, some people opted to use Galen’s principles and opposed Vesalius for claiming that there was a mistake in Galen’s work.

The main Galen’s claim, disputed by Vesalius, is that arteries carried the pure blood to the major areas of the body such as the lungs and the brain while veins carried blood to other areas of the body such as the stomach. This claim was disapproved by Vesalius, who claimed that he studied the organs and could not locate the holes that were claimed by Galen as interconnectors between arteries and veins.

He also disapproved Galen in a number of ways such as the claim that the lower jaw is a single bone that was based in dissection of an animal. In 1543, a number of dissections were performed by Vesalius by assembling bones and donating the skeleton to the University in Switzerland (Poynte 64). This specimen is the only preservation of Vesalis’ preparations today and it is considered as the world’s oldest anatomical specimen. It is still preserved at the Anatomical Museum of the University of Basel.

Later that year Vesalius asked his friend Johannes to assist him in publication of the article of anatomy work and later on he published an abbreviated edition to a number of students.

He was appointed as a court physician in the family of Charles V. He travelled with courts, assisting in treatment of injuries from soldiers, who participated in battles or tournaments, by performing pasting and postmortem as well as writing private messages that attempt to answer certain medical problems. During this time, he also wrote a short description of medical plant properties in an attempt to defend its use and the anatomical findings. As a result, a number of criticisms influenced the possibility of being punished (Rockwood 29). His bravery and intelligence, on the contrary, resulted into enmity with the catholic clergy and a number of conservative physicians. He was accused of involvement in body snatching. Charles V appointed a commission of inquiry to determine the religious impacts of his methods in 1551. Despite the clearance of Vesalius’ work, attacks on him continued.

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In 1564, he was accused of involvement in murder for dissection of a Spanish man, who, his enemies claimed, was still alive. He was also accused of atheism. This occurred when he decided to go the Holy Land. Vesalius sailed together with the Vatican Flotilla. Due to leniency of King Philip II, his sentence was reduced to a pilgrimage of penitence to the Holy Land. He left from Jerusalem but was asked to return back, because he had been awarded a professorship by the Venetian Senate, that was vacant following Fallapius’s death, who was his friend and student,. Unfortunately, during his return from the sentence, there was a strong storm that badly harmed his vessel.  He was rescued by the sea but could not survive the injuries and died shortly afterwards. For a lot of years following his death, it was thought that the reason, he contributed to pilgrimage, was caused by pressure of the inquiry process.  However, this is considered to be baseless and modern biographers do not consider it to be a right explanation (Hillson 25). The person assumed to have contributed to the spread of the story is Hubert Languet, a diplomat, who worked under the Emperor Charles V, who explained that Vesalius conducted the autopsy on Spanish aristocrat when he was still alive, resulting into the inquisition process that condemned him to death.

Contribution of Andreas Vesalius

At the time of Vesalius, there was a strong belief in the work of ancient Greek Physician, Galen in the area of anatomy. In addition, the Greek and Roman laws did not allow dissection of human beings, the study of human being was done, using analogies, related to human anatomy by studying pigs and apes (Garrison et al  93). Vesalius found that there was the necessity to conduct studies on human corpse to study human body.

The main contribution of Vesalius is that he resurrected the process of human dissection, irrespective of the ban, proposed by the Catholic Church. Soon, Vesalius discovered that the main area of Galen’s specialization was dissection of animals, not human beings. Vesalius also showed that women and men have an equal quantity of ribs, disregarding the biblical story of Adam and Eve, that explains that Eve was created from the rib of Adam and that women have one rib more than men. This was proved by Vesalius to be wrong.

The other significant publication by Vesalius is the book on anatomy of the human ‘De Humani Commis Fabrica’. This title means “The Structure of The Human Body”. The book contains a total number of 200 anatomical illustrations. This work provides the earliest accurate presentation of anatomy. It provides a disapproval of many doctrines of Galen such as the belief of Greeks that blood could flow between ventricles and the heart and that the jaw or jawbone is composed of more than a single bone. Specifically, his visual depiction of the muscles has been regarded as the most accurate. The book, containing seven volumes, provides a solid understanding of human body structures as the foundation for medical presentation and curing.

The other important publication by Vesalius is De Corporis Fabrica, published in association with Johannes Oporinus (Crowther 10). This was a book on human anatomy, dedicated to Charles V, but it is believed that it was illustrated by a number of artists, operating in the studio of Titan, and also published an additional version of the opera that focused on illustration more than text, to act as an assistance to readers to get an easy understanding of his findings. The main areas, covered in ‘Fabrica’, include anatomical view of human body structure by considering internal functioning of human body as a structure composed of organs, located in a three-dimensional space. This opposed a number of anatomical models with arrangement of organs in a three-dimensional space. It also opposes a number of anatomical explanations that emphasized more on Galenic elements and elements of astrology.

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A part from the sphenoid bone first and detailed description, he demonstrated that the breastbone is composed of three components and the sacral bone. He also described that the vestibule is located in the inner parts of the temporal bone. He did an observation of Etienne in the valves of the liver and also described and detected a canal that allows passage of the fetus between the vena cava and umbilical vein (Castiglioni 43).

He gave a description of momentum and its connection with the stomach, the correct analysis of the pylorus, a proper definition of anatomy of the brain that had not been advanced. Other publications by Vesalius include teachings regarding the occurrence of pain in the auxiliary vein of the elbow and came up with the right hypothesis for conducting anatomical inspection of human beings.

Vesalius also argued against the claim by Galen that the skeletal system is the skeleton of human body. According to Galen’s study of the ape their sternum consisted of seven parts. This led him to the assumption that human sternum also consists of seven parts. This was opposed by Vesalius when he discovered that the human sternum is composed of three parts. The other area, where Vesalius contributed, is the disapproval of the belief that men had a single rib lesser than women and also showed that tibia and fibula bones were actually larger in comparison with the humerus bone of the arm, contrary to Galen’s initial findings (Boerhaave 30).

He also provided a basis of description for the muscular system by describing the position and source of each muscle within the human body and also providing explanations for their functionalities. In the study of vascular and blood circulatory systems, he contributed greatly to the study of modern medicine. This is demonstrated by the findings of his the heart dissections that led to disapproval of Galen’s argument of a porous Interventricular septum. He also argued that cardiac systole operates synchronously with the arterial beats.

In the study of abdominal organs, Vesalius approved the inaccurate claim by Galen that the liver is the center of production of blood, but he disapproved the claim that the vena cava comes from the liver. The other claim by Galen, that he disapproved, is that the liver is composed of five lobes and explained that it is composed of two lobes. He also corrected a claim about the right kidney as being in a higher position compared with the left kidney. Vesalius explained that kidneys did not serve the purpose of filtering urine in its passage to the urethra but it served as a filter for blood in addition to excrement that travel through the ureters to the bladder. He also provided a description of the omentum, and its associations with the stomach, the colon and the spleen to give the right configuration of the pylorus.

Experts Opinions Regarding the Work of Andreas Vesalius

Modern medical experts believe that the contributions of Vesalius and his approach have resulted into attainment of significant and accurate outcome for the study of human body. The method, used to tend to the work, can be considered to be significant on its own. Overthrowing the claims of Galen and depending on his personal observations resulted into creation of new scientific methods. His need to attempt to establish truth is basically observable through his capability to correct his claims and to consistently improve his ideas, regarding human anatomy. Through his focus on the complexity, he had the ability to give a distinct illustrations and distinctive anatomical illustrations that have created a background for expectations of medicinal books.

Most experts also believe that areas, where difficulties were experienced such as the area of the human skull, have been simplified as a result of the basic research conducted by Vesalius. Experts also explain that his contribution in the study of the brain and the nervous system has become a basis for studying mind and emotions and a basis of the abolishment of Aristotelian claim that the heart was the center of the body. They also explain that he contributed significantly to the study of parallel dissection, in which dissections of animal and human beings were performed at the same time to determine whether the claims of Galen were true. This provided ground for effective understanding of performance of human body organs. His publications were considered as significant works in various areas of the study of human body structure and functions. These publications were used as reference materials in the study of various functions of the body such as the operation of muscles and arteries as well as that arguing about the location of the nervous system. He also promoted the claim that anatomical dissection can be used to understand testing speculations.

The contribution of Vesalius has been significant in the study of a number of functions of human body. Despite the restrictions such as prohibition of dissection of human beings, it did not prevent him from disapproving certain beliefs regarding human anatomy, proposed by Galen. By providing the right perceptions regarding human anatomy, Vesalius provided a background for studying medicine and further studies regarding human anatomy. He can be regarded as both determined and intelligent person by overcoming the obstacles, experienced during his time to create a number of discoveries regarding the functions of human body that provided the basis of present studies in medicine.


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