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December 28, 1984

Science and Medicine in France: The Emergence of Experimental Physiology, 1790-1855

Author Affiliations

Salt Lake City

JAMA. 1984;252(24):3423. doi:10.1001/jama.1984.03350240067055

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The movement from anatomic research to experimental physiology, so important for modern medicine, began in the 17th century. However, the intellectual and institutional conditions were not right for the establishment of an independent experimental physiology methodologically based in vivisection and chemistry until the late 18th century in France.

John E. Lesch describes how the threads of experimental physiology created by Harvey, Mayow, Hunter, Haller, and others were woven into whole cloth through the efforts of Bichat, Magendie, Bernard, and their associates. Xavier Bichat developed a bipartite physiology. The first part grew out of traditional theoretical concerns about general biologic ideas, while the second was rooted in surgical skills and animal experiments. After Bichat's death, his student François Magendie continued his vivi-sectional work, combining it with the new critical pharmacology and its reliance on chemistry. This not only allowed breakthroughs in the physiology of poisons but also stimulated advances in pharmacology,