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February 2016

Biopsy—What’s in the Name?

Author Affiliations
  • 1Department of Medicine, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
  • 2Division of Dermatology, University of Ottawa, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
JAMA Dermatol. 2016;152(2):190. doi:10.1001/jamadermatol.2015.3677

For centuries, physicians treating diseases have wondered about the underlying characteristics and features of various pathologies. An early example of such curiosity can be found in the famous Kitab al-Tasrif (“The Method of Medicine”) by Arab physician Albucasis (936-1013), who described the use of fine-needle aspiration for therapeutic and diagnostic purposes, especially in the treatment of goiter.1 In 1848, German dermatopathologist Gustav Simon (1810-1857) published the first textbook describing the microscopic features of normal and abnormal skin.2 This first atlas of dermatopathology presented histological characteristics of various dermatoses; however, there was no mention in the textbook of how Gustav obtained the tissue sample. Figures from Gustav’s text look very similar to an illustration of an excision, yet no name is given to the process of extraction.2 It was not until 1879 when the process of taking tissue from a live specimen was finally given a name by French dermatologist Ernest Besnier.3