A Rich History of Scientific and Educational Contributions: Celebrating 125 Years of the American Association of Anatomists


  • Kurt H. Albertine PhD

    Corresponding author
    1. Editor-in-Chief The Anatomical Record
    • Department of Pediatrics, Division of Neonatology, University of Utah, School of Medicine, Williams Building, 295 Chipeta Way, Salt Lake City, UT 84108-1220
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Celebrating 125 years of history of the American Association of Anatomists will be a highlight of the Experimental Biology 2013 annual meeting in Boston, MA, April 20–24, 2013. The celebration will be exciting to witness and participate in! Do not miss the celebration.

For its part, the editorial office of The Anatomical Record will publish articles that highlight contributions to anatomical sciences during the next 12 months in the Journal, leading up to the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting. Launching the articles is a historical perspective of the “The Anatomical School of Padua,” one of the most ancient in the world. Human anatomy buffs ought to delight in the pearls of history that are provided by the authors, Andrea Porzionato, Veronica Macchi, Carla Stecco, Anna Parenti, and Raffaele De Caro, all of whom are from the University of Padua, Italy. Professor De Caro is Director of the Department of Human Anatomy.

The historical perspective begins by introducing Bruno da Longobucco (c. 1200–c. 1286), who is most likely the first Professor of Anatomy and Surgery at the University of Padua. His introduction is followed by a chronology of renowned professors of anatomy and surgery the likes of whom few universities can boast: Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564), Realdo Colombo (1516–1559), Gabriel Fallopius (1523–1562), Hieronymus Fabricius ab Aquapendente (1533–1619), Julius Casserius (1552–1616), Johann Wesling (1598–1649), Johann Georg Wirsung (1600–1643), and Giovanni Battista Morgagni (1682–1771). Morgagni's contributions include his inaugural lecture on medical education, Nova Institutionum Medicarum Idea, delivered in 1712. His lecture emphasized the importance of a solid foundation of knowledge of preclinical and clinical aspects of medical science. Morgagni's educational message is as relevant today as it was 300 years ago. Numerous foreign scholars studied at the University of Padua, such as, Thomas Linacre (1460–1524), Werner Rolfinck (1599–1673), Thomas Bartholin (1616–1680), Olof Rudbeck (1630–1702), and William Harvey (1578–1657).

Figure 1.

The anatomical theater, University of Padua. Dr. De Caro and Dr. Albertine, November 2008.

Figure 2.

Medallion that commemorates Fabricius' anatomical theater, University of Padau. Medallion given to Dr. Albertine by Dr. De Caro, November 2008.

“The Anatomical School of Padua” provides insights about many of the giants of our field. Did you know that Vesalius was charged with murder in 1564 for dissecting a nobleman whose heart was reported to be beating by some witnesses? Fortunately, on many levels, Vesalius' sentence was commuted to a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Another insight is that Fabricius, as a physician, treated the Medici family, Galileo Galilei, the Duke of Urbino, and the King of Poland. The article is enriched by 13 figures that show statues or portraits of the anatomy professors of greatest contribution and renown, as well as features of the University of Padua.

Palazzo Bò is the ancient building that houses the iconic anatomical theater that revolutionized teaching of human anatomy (see Fig. 6B in the article).

Fabricius (1533–1619) led construction of the anatomical theater. The theater was used until 1872. Those who have had the honor and privilege to enter the anatomical theater will attest that its six concentric galleries are stunning in design and proximity to the epicenter: the dissection table (Figure 1 of this editorial). The theater can hold 300 people, all standing no farther than 30 feet from the dissecting table. I was awed during my visit, for which I thank Professor De Caro. Figure 2 in this editorial is the medallion that Professor De Caro is famous for presenting to guests of Fabricius' anatomical theater.

My hope, and that of authors Andrea Porzionato, Veronica Macchi, Carla Stecco, Anna Parenti, and Raffaele De Caro, is that you will enjoy the historical tour that launches articles featuring approaches to advance medical education, unravel mysteries of biology, and lead discoveries and advances in human health and disease.