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  • Humphrey Ridley (1653-1708): 17th Century Evolution in Neuroanatomy and Selective Cerebrovascular injections for Cadavers

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    Jai D. Thakur MD; Ashish Sonig MD MCh neurosurgery; Prashant Chittiboina MD, MPH; Imad S. Khan MD; Anil Nanda MD FACS

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    Meeting: Congress of Neurological Surgeons 2012 Annual Meeting

    Introduction: Humphrey Ridley (1653-1708), M.D., is a concealed figure, belonging to the post-medieval era of neuroanatomical enrichment. A PubMed search of his name does not pull up any article. This historical vignette weaves through his life and academic work which filtered the light of neuroscience and neurosurgical evolution back in the 17th century.

    Methods: We went through his treatise to elucidate his novel contributions to neuroscience and evolution of unique cadaveric selective cerebrovascular injections. Oxford and Cambridge, U.K., were contacted to confirm his bibliographical details.

    Results: Ridley was born in Mansfield, fourteen miles from the county of Nottinghamshire, England. Matriculated from Merton College, Oxford, he pursued medicine at Leiden. In 1688, he was incorporated M.D. at Cambridge in 1688. Ridley authored the first treatise on neuroanatomy to be originally published in English language, “The anatomy of the brain containing its mechanisms and physiology: together with some new discoveries and corrections of ancient and modern authors upon that subject”. Additionally, the first mention of a tumor originating in pineal gland, elucidation of the concept of blood brain barrier, first explicit publication on fornix with its pathways and the earliest functional and neuroanatomical description of posterior pyramidal eminences, are accredited to Ridley. Ridley for the first time described the venous anatomy of the parasellar compartment and the circular sinus (a.k.a. Ridley’s sinus). To appreciate the venous anatomy, he preferred to do his anatomical dissections on freshly executed criminals. These cadavers had considerable venous engorgement which made the skull base venous anatomy clearer. To enhance the appearance further, he used tinged wax and quicksilver in his injection to veins.

    Conclusions: Humphrey Ridley, through his unique but effective ways, fueled the evolution of neuroscience in the 17th century and laid strong foundation for the development of surgical neuroanatomy.

    Patient Care: This historical vignette highlights the unique methods of innovations existing in the 17th century. Awareness among young generation of neurosurgeons may help to introduce an attitude of innovative research methodology.

    Learning Objectives: By the conclusion of this session, participants should be able to appreciate the work of Humphrey Ridley who laid strong foundation for the development of surgical neuroanatomy.


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