The Men Behind the Medical Eponyms

Have you ever wondered about the origins of named disorders like Bell’s palsy or Parkinson’s disease? Who are the men behind these diseases? To find out, visit the exhibits in the Rare Books Room and Falk Library lobby through November.

The display in the Rare Books Room focuses on Percival Pott (1714-1788), a British surgeon and founder of orthopedy, who spent most of his working life at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. He first described spinal tuberculosis in 1779, known today as Pott’s disease. He left his name on several other disorders such as Pott’s cancer, Pott’s fracture, and Pott’s gangrene. His contributions to medicine are illustrated by beautiful 18th and 19th century editions of his surgical works.

The exhibit in the Falk Library lobby highlights the men behind Bell’s palsy, Huntington’s disease, and Paget’s disease. Charles Bell (1774-1842), a Scottish anatomist, neurologist and surgeon first described facial nerve paralysis in his influential paper “On the Nerves: Giving an Account of Some Experiments on their Structure and Functions, Which Lead to a New Arrangement of the System” which appeared in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London in 1821. George Huntington (1850-1916) was an American family practitioner whose vintage paper “On chorea” appeared in The Medical and Surgical Reporter: A Weekly Journal in 1872. Huntington’s paper describes hereditary chorea, which became one of the classical descriptions of neurological disease.  And then there’s James Paget (1814-1899), a British surgeon and pathologist, who described a bone condition in “On a Form of Chronic Inflammation of Bones (Osteitis Deformans)” in Medico-Chirurgical Transactions, 1876.

To learn more about the people linked to thousands of eponymous diseases, visit the online dictionary, Who Named It?

~ Gosia Fort