Giana Munoz July 24, 2020 Anatomy
The need for thinner, more transparent tissue specimens for study under the light microscope stimulated the development of improved methods of dissection, notably machines called microtomes that can slice specimens into extremely thin sections. In order to better distinguish the detail in these sections, synthetic dyes were used to stain tissues with different colours. Thin sections and staining had become standard tools for microscopic anatomists by the late 19th century. The field of cytology, which is the study of cells, and that of histology, which is the study of tissue organization from the cellular level up, both arose in the 19th century with the data and techniques of microscopic anatomy as their basis.
By the end of the 19th century the confusion caused by the enormous number of names had become intolerable. Medical dictionaries sometimes listed as many as 20 synonyms for one name, and more than 50,000 names were in use throughout Europe.
The use of the microscope in discovering minute, previously unknown features was pursued on a more systematic basis in the 18th century, but progress tended to be slow until technical improvements in the compound microscope itself, beginning in the 1830s with the gradual development of achromatic lenses, greatly increased that instrument’s resolving power. These technical advances enabled Matthias Jakob Schleiden and Theodor Schwann to recognize in 1838–39 that the cell is the fundamental unit of organization in all living things.
Scientific names for the parts and structures of the human body are usually in Latin; for example, the name musculus biceps brachii denotes the biceps muscle of the upper arm. Some such names were bequeathed to Europe by ancient Greek and Roman writers, and many more were coined by European anatomists from the 16th century on. Expanding medical knowledge meant the discovery of many bodily structures and tissues, but there was no uniformity of nomenclature, and thousands of new names were added as medical writers followed their own fancies, usually expressing them in a Latin form.
For example, we might assume giraffes have more vertebrae in its neck than humans. No, despite being incredibly tall, giraffes have the same number of vertebrae, i.e. they also have seven vertebrae in their neck.
Owing to church prohibitions against dissection, European medicine in the Middle Ages relied upon Galen’s mixture of fact and fancy rather than on direct observation for its anatomical knowledge, though some dissections were authorized for teaching purposes. In the early 16th century, the artist Leonardo da Vinci undertook his own dissections, and his beautiful and accurate anatomical drawings cleared the way for Flemish physician Andreas Vesalius to “restore” the science of anatomy with his monumental De humani corporis fabrica libri septem (1543; “The Seven Books on the Structure of the Human Body”), which was the first comprehensive and illustrated textbook of anatomy. As a professor at the University of Padua, Vesalius encouraged younger scientists to accept traditional anatomy only after verifying it themselves, and this more critical and questioning attitude broke Galen’s authority and placed anatomy on a firm foundation of observed fact and demonstration.
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