European Journal of Anatomy

Official Journal of The Spanish Society of Anatomy
Cover Volume 21 - Number 4
Eur J Anat, 21 (4): 261-268 (2017)

Thomas Bartholin (1616-1680): Danish anatomist and his cardinal contributions towards the discovery of the lymphatic system

Sanjib Kumar Ghosh1

1Department of Anatomy, ESIC Medical College, Gulbarga, Karnataka, India

ABSTRACT Thomas Bartholin (1616-1680) was the most fa-mous member of the celebrated Bartholin family of Copenhagen and made outstanding contributions in anatomical sciences during the 17th century. As a student he was exposed to the academic environment of eminent European universities like Leiden and Padua, which significantly contributed to his progressive outlook towards advances in medical sciences. He was an ardent proponent of William Harvey’s theory of circulation and adopted Harvey’s method-based approach for his own sci-entific experiments. Bartholin undertook multiple dissection of human cadavers and noted that lacteals (carrying whitish lymphatic fluid) and vasa lymphatica (carrying clear lymphatic fluid) were not entering the liver (the prevalent theory during that period). Rather, he observed, they were draining into the thoracic duct, which in turn empties its contents into circulating blood by opening into left subclavian vein. His findings corroborated those of Jean Pecquet, who had reported similar observations in animals. Bartholin’s efforts were critical towards the discovery of the lymphatic system in humans and establishing the same as an independent component of the circulation system. Bartholin was a prodigious writer and his most remarkable anatomical treatise was Institutiones Anatomicae, which also included a text authored by his father Caspar Bartholin, the Elder. In his lifetime, he wrote numerous letters in which he discussed his findings in details with his colleagues and contemporaries. He was a trendsetter, as he published most of these communications as valid scientific documents for future references. His exploits were instrumental for the evolution of anatomical sciences to the form familiar today.

Keywords: Anatomy – Medicine – Harvey – Cir-culation – Lymphatics – Institutiones Anatomicae

European Journal of anatomy
ISSN 2340-311X (Online)