Andreas Vesalius

Father of Anatomy

Background

As a young boy, Andreas' fathers and grandfathers had been pharmacists for the Holy Roman Emperor. He would express his love for science by dissecting birds, mice and stray dogs. When he first began his studies on anatomy, he usually preferred to perform dissections himself, rather than having to rely on an untrained assistant to do the work.

Achievements

At the times when he began to do his own studies on anatomy, he would regularly rob dead human bodies from cemeteries in Paris. During his studies, he discovered new things about the human body and how it functioned. For example, he found out that the heart consists of the main chamber, which is connected to four bloodstreams. He eventually wrote about his new discoveries of the human body on his textbook, On the Fabric of the Human Body.

Impact on Today

Andreas Vesalius' textbook is considered by many to be the first accurate book on human anatomy. After the book was published, his discoveries had increased our knowledge on the human body and to better understand medicine and how to cure diseases. His findings and research were so important, that he is called "The Father of Anatomy".

Interesting Facts

  • According to his studies, Vesalius believed Galen, a Greek scientist, had made errors when studying anatomy because he based his work on dissecting animal bodies.
  • Vesalius' textbook received some controversy, and it may be the reason why he quit his studies on anatomy and became the royal physician for Emperor Charles V.

Errors About the Human Body

Vesalius' textbook was written to dispel some of Galen's errors when studying human anatomy. For example, Galen had said that the great blood vessels began in the liver. When Andreas examined human bodies, he discovered that Galen's analysis of human anatomy was wrong, since he had dissected the bodies of dogs and monkeys instead. However, there were still a few mistakes in the book. For example, Vesalius agreed with Galen's theory that there was a different kind of blood flowing through the veins. But it wasn't until William Harvey, thanks to his studies on blood circulation, would show that this belief would be proven wrong all over Europe.

Surviving Copies?

A surviving copy of Vesalius' book still exists and was donated to John Hay Library of Brown University by an alumnus. The book was bound in human skin and was said to have been golden-brown in color and polished. The practice of covering medical books with human skin was a common practice until the 18th Century.