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Gabriele Falloppio

Gabriele Falloppio (1523 – 1562)

Gabriele Falloppio (1523-1562) was an Italian priest, anatomist and clinician.

Falloppio was a student of Nicolò Machella (1494-1554) and Antonio Brassavola (1500-1555). He read the works of Andreas Vesalius (1514–1564), and built upon these in his 1561 book Observationes anatomicae.

While the fallopian tubes are his best known eponym, Falloppio’s wide-ranging contributions to anatomy mean that several structures bear his name.

At the prestigious University of Padua, Falloppio was professor of not only anatomy and surgery but also botany. It is thought that the genus Fallopia, which describes around 12 flowering buckwheat plants, was also named after him.

Falloppio’s father, Geronimo, died of syphilis when Gabriele was ten years old. Falloppio went on to study the disease and was the first to propose that sheathing the penis with a treated linen cap would prevent its spread. He claimed that none of the 1100 men who tested his creation contracted syphilis, and as a result Falloppio is credited as the father of the modern condom.


Biography
  • 1523 – Born in Modena, Italy
  • Impoverished after his father’s death, Falloppio initially became a priest
  • When his financial situation improved, Falloppio was able to study medicine
  • First studied in Modena, where he dissected the cadavers of people executed as criminals
  • Later studied in Ferrara, considered one of the best medical schools in Europe at the time
  • 1548 – Appointed head of anatomy at Pisa University by Cosimo I de’ Medici, Duke of Florence
  • During his tenure in Pisa, it is claimed that Falloppio vivisected humans and dissected lions
  • 1551 – Appointed professor of anatomy, surgery and botany at the University of Padua
  • 1552 – At the request of Pope Julius III, Falloppio was given leave from his post to travel to Rome and treat the pope’s brother
  • 1556 – Appointed a member of the Medical College of Venice
  • 1561 – Published his book Observationes Anatomicae in Venice
  • 1562 – Died on October 9 in Padua, likely of tuberculosis

Medical Eponyms
Fallopian tube (1562)

Galen (129-216) was a Greek physician, surgeon and philosopher in Ancient Rome. Galen proposed the theory of sexual isomorphism: that the male and female reproductive organs are fundamentally analogous, and differ only in their positioning.

Based on Galen’s theory, Andreas Vesalius equated what we now call the fallopian tube to the epididymis, describing them as “vas semen a teste in uterum deferencs” or “the vessel that conveys the semen from the testicle into the uterus”.

Falloppio corrected this misconception, and named the “uteri tuba” for it’s similarity to the shape of a trumpet. In Latin, tuba is the singular for trumpet, while tubae is the plural trumpets. Entering the English vernacular, physicians misread tubae as tube, and created the plural fallopian tubes. [QI – A Medley Of Maladies]

In both French and English, the capital letter F has been discarded making the eponymous term the “trompes de fallope” and “fallopian tubes“, respectively.

Meatus vero iste seminarius gracilis & angustus admodum oritur nerveus ac candidus a cornu ipsius uteri, cumque parum recesserit ab eo latior sensim redditur, & capreoli modo crispat se, donec veniat prope finem, tunc dimissis capreolaribus rugis, atque valde latus reditus finit in extremum quodam, quod memberanosum carneumque ob colorem rubrum videtur, extremumque lacerum valde & atrium est, veluti sunt pannrum attritorum fimbriae, & foramen amplum habet, quod semper calusum iacet concidentibus fimbriis illis extremis, quae tamen si diligenter aperiantur, ac dilatentur tubae cuiusdam aenaea extremum orificium exprimunt. 

Quare cum humus classici organi demptis capreolis, vel etiam iisdem additis meatus seminaries a principio usque ad extremum speciem gerat, ideo a me uteri tuba vocatus est. Ita se haec habent in omnibus, non solum humanis, sed etiam ovinis, ac vacinis cadaveribus, reliquisque brutorum omnium, qua ego secui

Observationes anatomicae 1562: 197-198

This slender and narrow seminal tube (‘ductus seminarius’) is of a firm consistency and of a light colour. It originates near the uterine cornu, widens considerably all along its length, and ends up as a bent branch. At its terminal point, it is fibroid-fleshy and red. It is unraveling like the seam of a worn piece of garment. It displays a wide opening that is closed off as the ‘fimbriae’, fringes converge. When these fringes are carefully separated, this part does indeed resemble the mouthpiece of a (Theban) trumpet.

Since the parts of the female’s seminal tube do resemble the shape of this classical music instrument, I have named it ‘tuba uteri’. This small organ is not only found in females. I have also observed it with sheep and cows and with all animal species I have dissected

Observationes anatomicae 1562: 197-198


Key Medical Attributions

Anatomy

In addition to the fallopian tubes, several anatomical structures bear Falloppio’s name, including:

  • Fallopian canal – facial nerve canal
  • Fallopian hiatus – hiatus for greater petrosal nerve
  • Fallopian muscle – pyramidalis muscle
  • Fallopian ligament – inguinal ligament
  • Fallopian valve – ileocaecal valve

Falloppio’s anatomical writings are wide-ranging. He described the chorda tympani, lacrimal bone and lacrimal duct, several cranial nerves, the tooth bud and tooth replacement process, primary and secondary ossification in the occipital bone and the sternum, the kidneys, ureters and bladder, and the female reproductive organs. Many authors consider his contributions to inner ear anatomy to be some of his most important work, and he is credited with naming the tympanic cavity “cavum tympani“.

Syphilis

Falloppio’s work on syphilis, which he called “Morbus Gallicus” or “the French disease”, was published after his death in 1564. In this book, Falloppio distinguished syphilitic condylomata lata from non-syphilitic condylomata acuminata and discussed the use, as well as the risks, of mercury therapy.

Condom

Falloppio recognised that syphilis was a sexually transmitted disease, and proposed sheathing the penis with “linteolum imbutum medicamento” or “a cloth soaked in medicine” to prevent its spread.

He wrote “ego feci experimentum in centum et mille hominibus et deum testor immortalem nullum eorum infectum“, which translates to “I have made an experiment on a hundred and thousand men, and I bear witness to the immortal God that none of them was infected”. [De morbo Gallico liber absolutissimus]

Surgery

Falloppio reportedly taught his students to use a trocar to drain ascites, but diverged from contemporaneous practice by siting his puncture at the iliac fossa rather than peri-umbilically.

There are myriad potential descriptions of Peyronie’s disease from the 16th century, which have been comprehensively reviewed by Musitelli, et al. They conclude that what Falloppio describes as “little acorns” were more likely caused by dorsal fibrosis, but accept that he may have been offering an early account of Peyronie’s.

Nerui sunt insignes ac ualde manifesti, ita ut nisi lusciosos latere possint, iique sunt, in quibus, ac simul in ipsorum inuolucris fiunt ganglia non dolorosa, uel glandulae uocatae, quae postea sunt in causa, ut dum pudendum erigitur ueluti arietinum cornu intortum turgeat, et non distendatur, quod genus morbi mea sententia immedicabile est

Falloppio 1561: 190

These nerves and their sheath are just those parts into which painless ganglions form, that are also called “little acorns.” These ganglions are the cause why, when erection of the penis occurs, it doesn’t swell straight, but like a ram-horn. In my opinion it is impossible to cure this kind of disease by medicines

Falloppio 1561: 190


Controversies
  • Known by several names, including Gabrielis Falloppii, Faloppia or Fallopius
  • Sources claim he abandoned his surgical practice in Modena as several of his patients died
  • Reportedly dissected the cadaver of a hanged person and performed human vivisection
  • Dissected the body of a lion from the Medici zoo in Florence, and subsequently argued against Aristotle’s theory that lion’s bones have no marrow
  • Challenged the establishment by contradicting the work of Vesalius, but made some mistakes in the process, for example in denying the presence of venous valves
  • Claimed that he discovered the clitoris, effectively accusing his predecessor at Padua Realdo Colombo (1515–1559) of plagiarism
  • Except for his 1561 book Observationes anatomicae, all of Falloppio’s published works were collated by notable physicians of the time and published posthumously

Major Publications

References

Biography

Eponymous terms


Eponym

the person behind the name

Dr Lucy J Yarwood LITFL author

MSc, MBChB University of Manchester. Currently doctoring in sunny Western Australia, aspiring obstetrician and gynaecologist

BA MA (Oxon) MBChB (Edin) FACEM FFSEM. Emergency physician, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital.  Passion for rugby; medical history; medical education; and asynchronous learning #FOAMed evangelist. Co-founder and CTO of Life in the Fast lane | Eponyms | Books | Twitter |

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