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William Henry Howell

Born 1860
Died 1945

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American physiologist, born February 20, 1860, Baltimore, Maryland; died February 6, 1945, Baltimore.

Biography of William Henry Howell

William Henry Howell was educated in the public schools in Baltimore and in 1876 entered the Johns Hopkins University as an undergraduate, earning his A.B. in 1881 and Ph.D. in 1884. During these years Howell studied and instructed with Henry Newell Martin (1848-1896), a noted British physiologist who was appointed professor at Johns Hopkins in 1884. For the next nine years Howell taught physiology at Johns Hopkins, the University of Michigan and Harvard University. In 1893 he was recalled to Baltimore to be the first professor of physiology in the new Johns Hopkins Medical School.

In 1893 he was recalled to Baltimore to be the first professor of physiology in the new Johns Hopkins Medical School. In 1899 he succeeded Osler as dean of the medical faculty and continued in that position for -twelve years. In 1918 he was appointed assistant director of the School of Hygiene and Public Health, director from 1926 to 1931. For three years thereafter he was chairman of the National Research Council, then retired to his laboratory at Johns Hopkins to continue his research until two days before his sudden death.

Howell's early research centered on the circulatory system, nerve tissue, and the components of the blood. He demonstrated the importance of inorganic salts in regulating heart rate. Howell was among the first to suggest that the two major lobes of the pituitary might be functionally distinct. His most important contributions were studies of blood coagulation. He isolated thrombin and established its importance in the clotting mechanism. With his student Jay McLean, Howell isolated a powerful anticoagulant, which he later named heparin because it was found in large quantities in the liver. During thirty years of his work he was assisted in the laboratory by one or more members of a family of haemophiliacs, who were always loyal to his studies.

By two generations of physicians he was known as the author of the Textbook of Physiology for Medical Students and Physicians. First published in 1905, it was widely adopted by American medical schools and went through fourteen editions during Howell's lifetime. This book presented physiology with the clarity, simplicity, and charm that characterized all his writing.

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