Course of History

Giovanni Morgagni

Giovanni Morgagni

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Many historians see Giovanni Battista Morgagni as the father of pathology. In 1761 Morgagni wrote 'De Sedibus et Causis Morborum' - 'On the Sites and Causes of Diseases'. The work was published in Italy and it is seen as starting the foundations that resulted in the clinical study of pathological anatomy.

Giovanni Battista Morgagni was born on February 20th 1682 in Forli, Italy.

He did not come from a noble background but his parent's wealth enabled him to have a good education. Morgagni started his higher education at Bologna where he studied Philosophy and Medicine. He graduated in both subjects three years later in 1701. Morgagni worked for the famous Antonio Maria Valsalva at Bologna and assisted him in his famous publication 'Anatomy and Diseases of the Ear', which was published in 1704. When Valsalva moved to a new appointment at Padua, Morgagni replaced him at Bologna where at the age of 24 he was given the title 'Academia Enquietorum'. One of his first stipulations to his students was that all their observations had to be exact and based on logic as opposed to presumption. His first works contained his observations on the human larynx and female pelvic organs. Both were well received in the medical community.

In 1712, Morgagni became Professor of Anatomy at Padua University aged 31 - a post he held for fifty-six years. In 1715, the Venetian Senate made him Chair of Anatomy. He became highly popular amongst both students and colleagues. He counted cardinals among his admirers and several popes honoured him.

Morgagni studied the anatomical differences between a healthy body and an unhealthy one and linked the symptoms he observed to abnormalities in the body. He made a number of important discoveries across a broad spectrum of medical issues.

Morgagni's most famous discoveries related to angina pectoris, myocardial degeneration and subacute bacterial endocarditis.

Morgagni also studied the impact of blood clots on the heart and the impact of tuberculosis on the human body.

He also demonstrated the urethral discharges, such as in gonorrhoea, occurred independently of penile ulcers as found in syphilis.

Morgagni also studied strokes and found that they did not come primarily from a lesion of the brain but mainly from changes in the cerebral blood vessels.

He also studied the impact of syphilis and he was the first person to connect syphilis with disease to the cerebral arteries. Morgagni also noted the hemiplegia affected the side of the body that was to the opposite side of the cerebral hemisphere that had been damaged by syphilis. Morgagni also concluded that hemiplegia did not result from lesions of the cerebellum.

While other men had studied the impact of diseases on the brain, including Hippocrates in his 'On Cranial Features' and Mestichelli of Rome, no one had gone into the subject in such depth as Morgagni.

His most famous written work was 'De Sedibus et Causis Morburum Per Anatomen Indagatis' (On the Sites and Causes of Diseases) published in 1761. This was reprinted on several occasions in Latin despite its bulk and also into English, French and German. The work is credited with pushing forward the boundaries so that anatomical pathology was recognised as a clinical science with exactness and precision being the key to success. The work was in five volumes and they contained Morgagni's precise observations of 700 autopsies.

His colleagues throughout Europe recognised his achievements and he was elected to the Royal Society in London in 1724, the Academy of Science, Paris in 1731, the St. Petersburg's Academy in 1735 and the Berlin Academy in 1754.

“There was no aspect of pathological anatomy in which Morgagni did not excel. More than two centuries after his death his work remains alive and complete, so that one can today give exact diagnosis to the cases that he describes.” (Roberto Margotta in 'History of Medicine').

Giovanni Battista Morgagni died in 1771