Gabriele Falloppio

Born 1523
Died 1562

Related eponyms


Italian anatomist, born 1523, Modena; died October 9, 1562, Padua. His name is also commonly given as Gabriel Fallopius, or Gabriello Falloppio.

Biography of Gabriele Falloppio

Gabriele Falloppio was perhaps the most outstanding and versatile of 16th century Italian anatomists. He was born in Modena, the son of Geronimo and Caterina Falloppio, and served as canon at the cathedral of that town. He was first educated in the classics, but after the death of his father and ensuing financial difficulties, he was directed toward a career in the church, becoming a priest in 1542, and he served as a canon at the cathedral of his native city.

With improvement in the family’s finances he turned to medicine, studying in Modena under Niccolo Machella and, according to the records, he dissected a body for his teacher in December 1544. Fallopius lived in extreme misery, which is probably the reason why he tried to earn som money practicing surgery. However, he displayed so little aptitude for that subject - as demonstrated by the fatal outcome of a number of his cases - that he soon thereafter abandoned it and returned wholly to the study of medicine.

There is a possibility that he spent some time at Padua under Giovanni Battista de Monte (1498-1551) and Matteo Realdo Colombo (1516-1559), who claimed that he was the discoverer of the clitoris and succeeded Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564); and it can be assumed with certainty that he studied for a period, about 1548 (24:1545-1547), in Ferrara under the direction of «my teacher» Antonio Musa Brasavola (1500-1550) and Giambattista Canano (1515-1579).

Falloppio was appointed to the chair of pharmacy in Ferrara and in 1549 accepted the chair of anatomy at the University of Pisa (24: teacher of anatomy in Pisa 1548-1551), where he was wrongfully accused of practising human vivisection. During this period he spent some time in Florence dissecting the bodies of lions in the Medici zoo and thereby disproving Aristotle’s statement that the bones of lions are wholly solid and without marrow.

Despite the charges against him, he was offered and accepted the famous chair of anatomy at Padua as a successor to Colombo. He took up his duties toward the end of 1551 and lectured and demonstrated with such success as to attract a number of later to be distinguished students, including the comparative anatomist Volcher Coiter (1534-1576). Falloppio was fully appreciated by the university’s authorities; he was regularly reappointed to the chair of anatomy until advancing pulmonary tuberculosis first limited his activities and finally killed him.

Fallopius was a painstaking dissector and is remembered for the precision of his descriptions, which he published in the only book of his that appeared in his lifetime - Observationes anatomicae from 1561. Falloppio’s investigations were the consequence of dissection not only of human bodies but also of foetuses, newborn infants, and children «up to the first seven months, and in several beyond». His most valuable descriptions concerned the bone system, the development of bones and the development of the hearing organ. His most notable contributions to the knowledge of bones were his descriptions of the ossification of the occiput folds, of the sternum, and of the primary centres of the innominate bone. His works on surgery and syphilis reveal a solid combination of experience and good judgement.

In his studies of the teeth Falloppio provided for the first time a clear description of primary dentition, the follicle of the tooth bud, and the manner of growth and replacement of the primary by the secondary tooth, as well as the first denial of the belief that teeth and bones are derived from the same tissues. Falloppio's description of the auditory apparatus was superior to that of Vesalius and includes the first clear account of the round and oval windows, the cochlea, the semicircular canals, and the scala vestibuli and tympani.

Falloppio’s most important contribution to urology is his account of the kidneys, although it is always difficult to determine whether the priority is properly that of Falloppio or of his contemporary Bartolomeo Eustachi (1510-1574). With this understood, attention may be called to what seems to have been the earliest account of a case of bilateral duplication of the ureter and renal vessels:

«Here at Padua I have observed and pointed out to my spectators double urinary passages and double sinuses in the middle of each human kidney, as well as many other things departing from the normal.»

Falloppio seems, moreover, to have been the first to observe the straight tubules that are, however, eponymously named from Beillini’s more detailed description of 1662. He was also the first to describe the three muscle coats of the urinary bladder:

«It possesses three tunics, as do the stomach and intestines»; and the bladder’s internal sphincter «formed by nature to contain the urine and prevent its being strained out.

Besides his eponymic descriptions, he described the clitoris, asserted the existence of the hymen in virgins, a matter long under dispute, coined the word «vagina» for what had previously been called the cervix or neck of the uterus, and disproved the popular notion that the penis entered the uterus during coition.

His health began to fail in 1556. In 1560 he went to Paris as physician to the Venetian envoy. He died of pleuritis and in 1562 was succeeded in the chair of anatomy and surgery at Padua by his great pupil Girolamo Fabricius (Hierunymus Fabricius ab Aquapendente (1537-1619). His collected works are entitled Opera genuina omnia. Falloppio was a keen botanist and the plant genus «fallopia» is named after him.

Falloppio first described the valvulae conniventes of the small intestine, now known as Kerckring's folds, for Thomas Theodorus Kerckring (1639-1693) who described them in 1670.

The remains of Falloppio’s writings, originally lecture notes, were edited for publication at various times after his death and may therefore represent more or less than the original content. Of these, Expositio in librum Galeni de ossibus (1570), Observationes de venis (1570), De humani corporis anatome compendium (1571), and De partibus similaribus humani corporis (1575) deal with anatomy. Further works are concerned with syphilis, balneology, surgery, and the composition of drugs. The popular Secreti diversi et miraculosi (1563), often attributed to Falloppio, is spurious.

In a period when AIDS has accentuated the wisdom (but not pleasure) of using condoms, Fallopius should also be remembered for his effort to prevent the transmission of syphilis, which was then reaching epidemic proportions in Western Europe. In his book on the French disease, Fallopius describes his sheath used for preventing transmission of syphilis. In reporting the results of perhaps the first clinical trial of condom efficacy Falloppio proclaimed:

"I tried the experiment [the use of condoms] on 1,100 men, and I call immortal God to witness that not one of them was infected."

Fallopius' contraceptive was a medicated sheath to go over the tip of the penis and under the foreskin. It was held on by a pink ribbon so that it would appeal to women.

According to condom lore, the term condom goes back tot the second half of the seventeenth century, when England's King Charles II, who had countless mistresses and even more "bastards", but no legitimate offspring, wanted something to protect him from syphilis. His physician, the Earl of Condom, came up with an oiled sheath made from sheep intestine. No one is really sure if he knew about Fallopius' contraption but soon all the noblemen were using them. It is said that throughout the doctor's life, he discouraged the use of his name to describe the invention.

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