Gabriele Falloppio, an illustrious anatomist of the sixteenth century and one of the founders of modern anatomy, is best remembered for the first accurate description of human oviducts or "fallopian tubes," which he correctly described as resembling small trumpets. His 1561 work Observations Anatomicae included original observations on the eye, ear, teeth, and female reproductive system, introducing many anatomical terms including vagina, placenta, cochlea, labyrinth, and palate.
Born in 1523 in Modena, Italy, Falloppio was first educated in the classics and directed towards a career in the church. Later he studied medicine and then surgery, but after a series of fatal outcomes abandoned surgery and turned entirely to medical studies. He joined the medical school in Ferrara in 1545, accepted the chair of anatomy at the University of Pisa in 1549, and then in 1551 the famous chair of anatomy at Padua. While teaching at Padua he inspired many of his students, including Fabricius ab Aquapendente (1537-1619) and Volcher Coiter (1534-1576?), to further research in surgery and other fields of medicine. He was a respected physician as well as an anatomist, and was considered an authority in botany, mineral springs, and syphilis. He taught at Padua until his death from pulmonary tuberculosis at the age of 39.
Of the various works attributed to Falloppio, only the Observations Anatomicae was published during his lifetime and is known to be authentic. It is not a comprehensive textbook but rather a series of commentaries on the De Humani Corporis Fabrica of Andreas Vesalius (1514-1564). Although Falloppio regarded Vesalius with the highest respect, even referring to him as the "divine Vesalius" upon whose foundation he continued to build, he did not hesitate to point out shortcomings in the Vesalian text. For example, he criticizes Vesalius for describing and illustrating in the Fabrica the kidney of a dog instead of a human.
Falloppio's dissections included not only adults but also children, newborns, and even fetuses, and thus allowed him make observations of primary and secondary centers of ossification, i.e., bone formation. In his studies of the teeth he provided a clear description of primary dentition and the process of replacement of the primary by the secondary tooth. His description of the auditory apparatus gives the first clear account of several anatomical structures, including the round and oval windows of the ear, the cochlea, the semicircular canals, the scala vestibuli and the tympani.
Also important are Falloppio's contributions to the understanding of muscles of the scalp and face, most notably the muscles of the orbit. He made a major contribution to the knowledge of the nervous system through his clear description of the trochlear nerve, tracing it to its origin in the brain stem and its termination in the superior oblique muscle of the eye, and establishing it as a separate nerve root. In addition, he recognized and described 11 of the 12 cranial nerves.
Falloppio's most important contribution to urology is his account of the kidney, but it is unclear whether the priority belongs to him or to his contemporary Bartolomeo Eustachio (1510?-1574). He does provide the earliest account of bilateral duplication of the ureter and renal vessels, and was the first to describe the three muscle coats of the urinary bladder.
Falloppio was a very effective teacher and careful observer, who demonstrated courage in challenging the accepted medical authorities, especially those of Galen (129-199), whose sayings had been revered as laws for over 1,200 years. Falloppio's early death limited his output, but his influence can be traced in the work of his two able pupils, Coiter and Fabricius, founders of modern comparative anatomy and embryology. He may be considered a student of Vesalius because of his thorough analysis of Vesalius's works, and through his continuation of the Vesalian tradition of using independent judgment rather than adhering to previous authority.
DIANE K. HAWKINS