Geek Of The Week: Andreas Vesalius

Geek Of The Week: Andreas Vesalius

Andreas Vesalius was a 16th-century Flemish anatomist, physician, and author of one of the most influential books on human anatomy, De humani corporis fabrica (On the Fabric of the Human Body). Vesalius is often referred to as the founder of modern human anatomy. He was born in Brussels, which was then part of the Habsburg Netherlands. He was professor at the University of Padua and later became Imperial physician at the court of Emperor Charles V.

Vesalius created detailed illustrations of anatomy for students in the form of six large woodcut posters. When he found that some of them were being widely copied, he published them all in 1538 under the title Tabulae anatomicae sex. He followed this in 1539 with an updated version of Guinter’s anatomical handbook, Institutiones anatomicae. In 1541 while in Bologna, Vesalius discovered that all of Galen’s research had to be restricted to animals; since dissection had been banned in ancient Rome. Galen had dissected Barbary macaques instead, which he considered structurally closest to man. Even though Galen produced many errors due to the anatomical material available to him, he was a qualified examiner, but his research was weakened by stating his findings philosophically, so his findings were based on religion precepts rather than science. Vesalius contributed to the new Giunta edition of Galen’s collected works and began to write his own anatomical text based on his own research. Until Vesalius pointed out Galen’s substitution of animal for human anatomy, it had gone unnoticed and had long been the basis of studying human anatomy. However, some people still chose to follow Galen and resented Vesalius for calling attention to the difference.

In 1543, Vesalius conducted a public dissection of the body of Jakob Karrer von Gebweiler, a notorious felon from the city of Basel, Switzerland. He assembled and articulated the bones, finally donating the skeleton to the University of Basel. This preparation (“The Basel Skeleton”) is Vesalius’ only well-preserved skeletal preparation, and also the world’s oldest surviving anatomical preparation. It is still displayed at the Anatomical Museum of the University of Basel. Vesalius was key to changing what was known about anatomy, and now he is Geek of the Week.

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avatar MIKE: A geek who currently works as a Biologist and has an extensive science background. He is an avid user of HPC systems used for scientific research in the Washington DC area. Mike's working knowledge of using computers to solve problems brings a unique viewpoint to the podcast.