Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Thomas Willis (1621-1675)

One of the most distinguished members of the Royal Society during its formative years was the English physician Thomas Willis. The first publication of Thomas Willis appeared in 1659 and included the important De fermentation, in which clearly indicated the importance of chemistry.

Willis was born in Great Bedwyn, Wiltshire, England on January 27, 1621. He had taken his BA at Christ Church, Oxford in 1639 and he had followed this with an MA three years later.

During the Civil War, he had served with royalists in the defense of Oxford and was rewarded for his loyalty by being appointed the Sedleian Professor of Natural philosophy in 1660.  In the same year he returned to his studies, which resulted in a B.Med degree in 1646.

Willis provided the first modern definition of typhoid fever, myasthenia gravis, and childbed fever latter renamed puerperal fever at Willis’s suggestion.
Thomas Willis
In each case, he furnished careful and detailed description of the signs and symptoms, duration and severity of the disease, the nature of relapses and recommended methods of treatment.

In 1664 Willis described in his treatise about a circle of arteries at the base of the brain that act as a traffic for the blood flowing to the head.

His work, assisted by a group of highly skilled colleagues known as the Vertuosi, combined other things anatomical knowledge, autopsies, clinical observation and experimentation.

Willis landmark text, Cerebri Anatome, 1664, was reproduced many times and developed into a pocket-sized standard textbook for medical students.

The circle of Willis provides a potential diversion for collateral blood supply following the occlusion of one major cranial arteries feeding, into it.

Because of Willis’s thorough illustrations and explanation of this structure, it is known today as the circle of Willis.

He died of pneumonia on November II, 1675, in London and was buried in Westminster Abbey.
Thomas Willis (1621-1675)

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