History of Developmental Anatomy and Physiology

History of Anatomy and Developmental Physiology. The history of any science is not the mere description of the historical facts that are proper to it in chronological order, much less the account of the work or discovery made by the men who study it.


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  • 1 Story
  • 2 Period of Alexandria
  • 3 Epoch of Feudalism
  • 4 Chinese and Arab Culture
  • 5 From the Feudal to the Renaissance period
  • 6 Sources


All science is a system of knowledge, expressed in concepts and categories, about nature, society or thought, accumulated in the course of human history in order to discover the laws that govern the phenomena that it deals with.

It is the needs arising in daily practice, in production, in services, the main factor by which science develops and in doing so diversifies, therefore it reflects the level of knowledge achieved by humanity in each of the stages of its history.

All science arises and develops to the extent that promoted by the needs of man, it has been able to elaborate a series of categories and define laws inherent in them, which allow it to predict, control and transform the area or sector of objective reality. of which it deals.

Numerous factors conditioned the emergence and development of developmental anatomy and physiology; the emergence of other sciences, and in particular, its link from the beginning to the development of Medicine , to the need to cure and treat the patient, to preserve health.

It is probable that the first diseases that affected man were surgical in nature: wounds caused by stones, arrows, or those derived from the fight against animals and man. The fight against diseases and the interest in the knowledge of man and his physical characteristics, as well as the construction of increasingly precise instruments and equipment, among other factors, led to the emergence and development of human anatomy and physiology from very remote times . .

Long is the relation of facts, discoveries and men of science that from the most remote antiquity have contributed as a whole to the formation of anatomy and physiology as science.

Long before the Belgian Andreus Vesalius ( 1514 – 1564 ) published his work “Seven books on the structure of the human body” ( 1543 ), in which he captured his experiences in dissections of human corpses and the English physician William Harvey ( 1578 – 1657 ) discovered the circulation of blood and the role of the heart in its propulsion, thus refuting Galen’s theories and laying the foundations of modern physiology by introducing the experimental method and quantitative deductions in physiology in 1628; countless specialists, doctors, and artists contributed their observations and approaches to the emergence of these two branches of the biological sciences.

First on the basis of the need to satisfy the logical curiosity to know oneself and later, or perhaps at the same time, driven by the demands of practical medicine, since knowledge was essential to heal wounds, disorders and diseases. of the structure and functions of the organism.
Initiation of science Anatomy and Physiology in Ancient Greece

Anatomy and physiology, as a science, begins to form among the ancient Greeks who, as Karl Marx wrote, “… will forever remain our teachers …”

The historical role of ancient Greek philosophy is determined by its materialistic character. Under the influence of the materialism of Democritus and the dialectic of Heraclitus to which the famous thesis that everything flows owes, the materialistic concept of the structure of the human organism was formed.

Thus, the contemporary of Heraclitus , Alcineón de Trotona (about 500 years ago) practiced the autopsy of corpses and wrote a book on anatomy. In contrast to idealists, he was the first to argue that the brain was the center of mental activity.

Another eminent doctor from Ancient Greece , Hippocrates (460 – 377 years old), taught that the basis of the structure of the organism is composed of four humors: blood, mucus, bile and black bile. According to him, the type of temperament of the person depended on the preponderance of one of said juices: sanguine, phlegmatic, choleric and melancholic. Consequently, the temperament of the person, as one of the manifestations of mental activity, is conditioned by the state of the body’s humors, that is, by matter. Therein lay Hippocrates’ materialism .

The types of temperaments cited also determined, according to Hippocrates, the different constitutional types of people, which are very varied and can undergo transformations, in correspondence with the variations of those same body humors, this being their dialectical approach.

Starting from this understanding of the organism, Hippocrates also considered the disease as the result of a wrong mix of humors and for that reason he introduced in practice the treatment with different diuretic substances. Thus the humoral theory of the constitution of the organism was formed which, to a certain extent, maintains its significance, and for this reason it is considered the father of medicine.

Aristotle developed the idealistic doctrine of his teacher Plato on the spirit, as an efficient life-giving principle. He did not pay special attention to the anatomy of man, but as an eminent philosopher and wise naturalist, he caused an enormous influence on its development.

To him are the first attempts at comparison between the bodies of animals and the study of the embryo being the initiator of comparative anatomy and embryology . Aristotle issued a true idea, contrary to religion, by claiming that every animal comes from the animal.

Alexandria period

The Medicine and Biology had their further development, noting that period the shift of speculative naturalistic philosophy toward observation and experimentation. The most renowned doctors of the Alexandrian period are Herophiles and Erasistratus .

Herophilus (335-280 BC) physician to the court of Ptolemy II was the creator of anatomy as an independent science, since before it was considered only as part of Surgery . He was the first to practice dissection of human corpses, from which the name of anatomy is derived. He described a series of anatomical formations:

  • The brain and its meninges.
  • Vascular plexuses, venous sinuses and their confluence.
  • It precisely delimited the nerves of the tendons; the arteries differentiated them from the veins.
  • He also discovered the duodenum and the prostate.

For his part, Erasistratus was the first to differentiate the motor and sensory nerves, and studying the contractions of the muscles, he issued his theory of movement that was accepted until the 16th – 17th centuries.
Ancient Rome

Claudio Galen (129-c. 199 ne), was an eminent philosopher, biologist, anatomist and physiologist of Ancient Rome . Due to his talent and creative depth, he almost equaled Aristotle . However, the sphere of his activity was preferably limited to medicine; In his conceptions of the organism, Galen developed Planton’s idealism and Aristotle’s theology on the one hand, while maintaining a materialistic criterion in his study.

He considered the human body to be made up of solid and liquid parts. He was the first to use observation in his method of studying the organism and founded experimental medicine, especially in relation to the nervous system . Thanks to these methods, he provided a considerable advance to this science.

He presented a classification of the bones and their joints, preserved to date. His conception of blood circulation was maintained until the 17th century, when the discovery of blood circulation was made by William Harvey .

Epoch of Feudalism

The first stage of Feudalism (5th to 10th century – XI) immediately followed the collapse of the Western Roman Empire. This feudalism, with its natural economy, the almost absolute absence of large cities, of commerce and of other forms of relationship between countries, was not favorable for scientific development.

In Western Europe the Catholic Church dominated , with its only ideology: the Christian religion, which was the enemy of science and hindered its evolution. Instead of the sciences, alchemy, magic, and other occult sciences flourished; all of them false.

All of this led to the decline of the sciences, including anatomy. The human organism was considered as a small world, the “microcosm” and that is why it was believed that the parts of the body were in correspondence with the parts of the firmament. Hence, instead of anatomy and physiology, astrology was developed .

Of the medical treatises only Galen’s works were disseminated , which were castrated by the church’s servants of their materialistic essence.

Chinese and Arab Culture

It is known that the Chinese with their millenary culture, started more than 5000 years ago, had a broad knowledge of the human body, which allowed them to anatomically and physiologically locate those points of the organism where important motor or sensory centers are found, which they called “The meridians of the body”. On the basis of this knowledge, they developed treatment techniques that have become contemporary under the name of Traditional Medicine , which is basically based on the use of Acupuncture , Home Therapy or Homeopathy , which based on physiological studies carried out at that time by German Christian Friedrich Samuel Hahnemann in 1792, develops a curative system by proposing that the substance that artificially provoked a set of symptoms in a healthy man would cure those same symptoms in a sick man who presented them.

The Arabs achieved extensive knowledge regarding structures or internal organs of the human body. These, not being practitioners of the Catholic religion, had no fear in the practice of dissections and studies in human corpses, an aspect that is somewhat controversial in Western Europe where Catholic practice led to believe that man was the result of divine creation , any deep study of the body lying dead being a sin.

In some texts it is suggested that probably some western doctors of these early times, went to study in Arab countries, thus seeking greater knowledge.

From the Feudal period to the Renaissance

The third stage of Feudalism ( XVI – XVII century), is the period of its decline and the successive formation of the elements of capitalism in the bowels of decaying feudal society. The new nascent class, the bourgeoisie, was interested in the development of the productive forces and, consequently, in that of the sciences. The period of the Renaissance begins, which was according to Engels : “… the greatest progressive revolution that humanity had known until then.”

The renaissance encompassed all sciences, and among them the anatomy and physiology of development, which from that moment begins the scientific period of its development. Scholasticism, of words and signs, was replaced by the objective study of the human body. At this time fear and taboos were broken before the corpse, and laid the foundations for a correct conception of the structure and functions of the human body.

“The Renaissance era was a time that required titans and that spawned titans by force of thought, passion and character, by universality and scholarship.”

And undoubtedly the anatomy and physiology of development also had its titans that destroyed Galen’s scholastic anatomy and laid the foundations of scientific anatomy, being its initiator Leonardo da Vinci , its founder Andreus Vesalius and concluded by William Harvey , who in addition to being the discoverer of blood circulation, made his brilliant assumption that I live it, in his Ontogenesis he repeats Phylogenesis , and therefore he was the first to establish the law of Biogenesis , which was first demonstrated by Kovalevski and formulated later in the Century XIX , by Müllerand Haeckel .

Contrary to religion, he also issued his materialistic thesis that every animal originates from the egg; thesis that served as a paradigm for the further development of Embryology . He discovered that the embryonic disk was the Embryo ; He described delivery, the placenta, and the umbilical cord, which was and still is of enormous importance to practical medicine. Today Harvey is considered the founder and father of embryology.

After the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries , when everyone seems to agree on locating the origin of anatomy and physiology respectively, by the contributions of Vesalius and Harvey ; the discoveries in the field of both sciences have happened one after the other. The progress of other sciences such as Physics , Chemistry , Biochemistry , medical sciences as a whole and more recently sports, work, school and cosmic medicine, as well as Cybernetics and Computing, have contributed to this .

Long is the list of physiological and anatomical events or events studied and approached with all scientific rigor in the literature as a result of the rebirth of the sciences, however we will cite those most significant moments that together have allowed the anatomy and physiology, also considered as paradigms. These enabled the understanding and deepening of their object of study, which in fact has allowed that in the course of its historical development, the anatomy and physiology of development is recognized as a science of own identity that interacts, nurtures and enriches the Once the scientific work of other sciences:

  • During the last decade of the 15th century , anatomical illustrations began to be printed, thus facilitating the transmission and understanding of knowledge about the human body and its functioning, thanks to the initial development of printing technology with the emergence of the Printing Press and the Chamber. Photographic .
  • In 1560 the Dutch Zacarías Jausen discovered the microscope which made the emergence of the microscopic anatomy possible by Marcelo Malpighi ( 1628 – 1694 ), who also described renal physiology. Later came compound microscopes, the ultraviolet in 1903 , the electronic one in 1934 , and more recently the phase microscope, where, as in many other sciences, the use of automated systems and electronic computers is used.
  • Alcohol was introduced as a disinfectant and prophylactic in 1660 .
  • The Swedish Carl Von Linnaeus ( 1707 – 1778 ) established his classification system and a universal nomenclature with precise descriptions, which formed the starting point of the nomenclature used today. Linnaeus placed man at the top of the ladder of living beings he built.
  • In 1839 the Cell Theory is exposed by MJ Schleiden (1804 – 1881) and T. Schwann ( 1810 – 1882 ), from which today cellular processes such as respiration, passive and active transport at the cell membrane level can be understood , physiology of cellular organelles, secretion and action of enzymes, hormones, membrane potentials at rest and in action, among others. In summary, the Biochemical processes that together make up Metabolism as a form of biological movement can be understood .
  • The theory of organic evolution was generalized as a biological principle in the last years of the 19th century when the English Charles Darwin (1809 – 1882) demonstrated the variability of animal species in the process of adaptation to living conditions. The unity of the animal world was demonstrated, proposing the origin of man from anthropomorphic monkeys, highly developed anthropoids, extinct today.
  • Darwin discovered the law of the development of organic nature, laying the foundations on which other evolutionary theories were developed, and that as a whole by taking the positive aspects of each of them, plus the scientific results obtained by other related sciences such as Paleontology , Genetics , Embryology , Comparative Anatomy , Zoology , and others. The formulation of the Modern Synthetic Theory of Evolution has persisted today .
  • During the 19th century , various instruments and equipment were built: Stethoscope, Otoscope, Ophthalmoscope, Laryngoscope, Gastroscope, among others, and which to some extent are the initiators, based on anatomical studies, of what is today the powerful industry of medical-biological technology. This was largely due to the development achieved in physics, fundamentally in optics and more recently in the studies of magnetism, which has allowed the development of advanced technologies such as Magnetic Resonance .
  • Formalin has been used as a fixative since 1890 , which, together with the wide development achieved in scanning and electron microscopy diagnostic means, makes it possible to more accurately identify cells, viruses, bacteria.
  • The Spanish histologist Santiago Ramón y Cajal ( 1852 – 1934 ) discovered the structure of nerve cells in the cerebral cortex, putting an end to the existing concerns about the nervous system from Ancient Greece and opening the way to the development of what is nowadays known in the contemporary world as Neurosciences, which have served as the basis for the study and formulation of theories related to the teaching-learning processes, higher nervous activity, reflex activity of man and mental work capacity.
  • Significant moment is the contribution given by IP Pavlov (1849 – 1936), through his theory of superior nervous activity, which was a brilliant confirmation of the idea put forward by Sechenov (1829 – 1905) about the reflex nature of the activity of the organism .
  • The German physicist Guillermo Conrado Röntgen (1845 – 1923) discovered X-rays, one of the most effective means of diagnosis and therapeutics in medicine, which in fact facilitates anatomical and physiological studies.
  • Currently, this technology is enriched with the use of Ultrasound, Ultra Micro Analytical System (SUMA), Computerized axial tomography (CAT), where basic use of computation is made, with databases developed from analyzes and interpretations. of the physiological processes that take place in the body.

In the light of the contemporary scientific-technical revolution, the anatomy and physiology of development continue to be together with other development sciences. The most praiseworthy example is Biotechnology . In this based on the anatomophysiological theories of the gene as a unit of inheritance and variation, solutions to pressing problems of man are sought, with practical application not only in the field of medicine, but also in the serious problems of food and environmental contamination to humanity is facing at the present time.

Thanks to the efforts and efforts for the development of Biotechnology, Cuba is inserted with favorable results in the international scientific work and competes to earn its place at the level of the most developed countries in this field.


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