Navigation Links
Odd experiments by 'America's first physiologist' shed light on digestion

BOSTONA fur trader who suffered an accidental gunshot wound in 1822 and the physician who saw this unfortunate incidence as an opportunity for research are key to much of our early knowledge about the workings of the digestive system, say speakers of an upcoming symposium.

These speakersJay Dean, Ph.D., of the University of South Florida, Richard Rogers, Ph.D., of Pennington Biomedical Research Center, Louisiana State University, and Patrick Lambert, Ph.D., of Creighton Universitywill give their symposium presentation entitled, "William Beaumont: America's First Physiologist and Pioneer of Gastrointestinal Research," at the Experimental Biology 2013 meeting, being held April 20-24, 2013 at the Boston Convention and Exhibition Center, Boston, Mass. The symposium is sponsored by the American Physiological Society (APS), a co-sponsor of the event.

Food on Strings

Dean, a physiologist who studies the nerve cells that control heart rate and breathing and an amateur historian, explains that army physician William Beaumont was stationed at Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island in Michigan in the early 1820s. The army facility, established to protect the interests of the American Fur Company, became the refuge for a fur trader named Alexis St. Martin was accidentally shot in the abdomen at close range on June 6, 1822.

It was a serious woundSt. Martin's stomach was perforated, several of his ribs were broken, and the shot blew off several muscle fragments. Beaumont didn't expect St. Martin to survive, but the fur trader surprised him. Over the next year, St. Martin healed remarkably, but the skin around the wound fused to the hole in his stomach, leaving a permanent opening called a gastric fistula.

"As Beaumont tended to St. Martin over the next three years, he realized that this was really a serendipitous event," Dean says. "It dawned on him that there could be a research opportunity in this."

At the time, Dean explains, not much was known about digestion. To gain insight about this vital function, Beaumont performed a series of 238 experiments on St. Martin intermittently over an eight-year period. In all, experiments were conducted at four different rustic military outposts spanning the unsettled Great Lakes region to the East Coast. Twice, Beaumont had to convince the reluctant St. Martin to return from Canada to his frontier lab to continue the experiments. Many of these experiments involved inserting bits of different foods tied to strings through the hole in St. Martin's stomach, pulling them out periodically to observe digestion. Beaumont also removed gastric juice, examining it to better understand its nature.

Seizing the Opportunity

Beaumont's observations, published in1833 in a lengthy book entitled "Experiments and Observations on the Gastric Juice and the Physiology of Digestion," form the basis of much of the early knowledge on digestion. Many of his observations have proven true with today's more sophisticated research techniques, Dean says.

For example, Beaumont discovered that hydrochloric acid is the main chemical responsible for breaking down food. He proposed the existence of a second important digestive chemical, which scientists now know is the enzyme pepsin. His experiments "digesting" food in a cup with St. Martin's extracted gastric juices showed that digestion is a chemical process, not merely a mechanical one caused by stomach muscle movement. His work also provided insights on how emotions, temperature, and physical activity can affect digestion.

From performing such intensive investigation in America's early days, Beaumont is now recognized as America's first physiologist, Dean says. Today, numerous hospitals are named after this physician-scientist.

Despite St. Martin's unusual wound, which never healed, he ended up outliving Beaumont and fathering numerous children.

Much of Beaumont's success relied on seizing an unexpected break, Dean says. "St. Martin ended up becoming Beaumont's living laboratory," Dean adds. "He recognized an opportunity that hadn't been planned on and exploited it to gain important knowledge, something good scientists often do today."


Contact: Donna Krupa
American Physiological Society

Related biology news :

1. Experiments may understate plant responses to climate
2. New cutting-edge cell research will lead to safer medical experiments on humans
3. New book celebrates women scientists in the Americas
4. BGI hosts its 2nd International Conference on Genomics in the Americas
5. Kessler Foundation implements Ekso Bionics first commercial robotic exoskeleton
6. Research reveals first evidence of hunting by prehistoric Ohioans
7. First model of how buds grow into leaves
8. American College of Rheumatology releases first classification criteria for polymyalagia rheumatica
9. Ottawa researchers to lead world-first clinical trial of stem cell therapy for septic shock
10. First complete full genetic map of promising energy crop
11. FirstMark Announces New Hire Jay Houtman as Southeast Regional Sales Manager
Post Your Comments:
(Date:11/2/2015)... MENLO PARK, Calif. , Nov. 2, 2015 /PRNewswire/ ... to $9 million to provide preclinical development services to ... Under the contract, SRI will provide scientific expertise, modern ... a wide variety of preclinical pharmacology and toxicology studies ... --> --> The PREVENT Cancer Drug ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... , Oct. 29, 2015 Daon, a ... that it has released a new version of its ... in North America have already ... v4.0 also includes a FIDO UAF certified server ... already preparing to activate FIDO features. These customers include ...
(Date:10/29/2015)... 29, 2015 NXTD ) ... focused on the growing mobile commerce market and ... StackCommerce, a leading marketplace to discover and buy ... smart wallet on StackSocial for this holiday season. ... the "Company"), a biometric authentication company focused on ...
Breaking Biology News(10 mins):
(Date:11/25/2015)... Md. , Nov. 25, 2015  PharmAthene, Inc. ... Directors has adopted a stockholder rights plan (Rights Plan) ... net operating loss carryforwards (NOLs) under Section 382 of ... --> PharmAthene,s use of its NOLs ... "ownership change" as defined in Section 382 of the ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... LOS ANGELES and HOLLISTON, Mass. ... Regenerative Technology, Inc. (Nasdaq: HART ), a biotechnology ... announced that CEO Jim McGorry will present ... Tuesday, December 1, 2015 at 2:30 p.m. PT. The ... (link below) for 30 days. Management will also be ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... ... November 25, 2015 , ... A ... Black Aerospace Professionals (OPBAP) has been formalized with the signing of a Memorandum ... met with OPBAP leaders Capt. Karl Minter and Capt. Albert Glenn Tuesday, November ...
(Date:11/25/2015)... ... November 25, 2015 , ... Jessica Richman and Zachary ... in their initial angel funding process. Now, they are paying it forward to ... early stage investments in the microbiome space. In this, they join other ...
Breaking Biology Technology: