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Odd experiments by 'America's first physiologist' shed light on digestion
Date:4/24/2013

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
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Contact: Donna Krupa
dkrupa@the-aps.org
American Physiological Society
Source:Eurekalert

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