Thomas Bartholin

Thomas Bartholin

Thomas Bartholin
Born 20 October 1616
Malmö, Scania then part of Denmark
Died 4 December 1680 (aged 64)
Nationality Danish
Fields medicine
Known for lymphatic system

Thomas Bartholin (/bɑːrˈtlɪn, ˈbɑːrtəlɪn/; Latinized: Thomas Bartholinus; 20 October 1616 – 4 December 1680) was a Danish physician, mathematician, and theologian. He is best known for his work in the discovery of the lymphatic system in humans and for his advancements of the theory of refrigeration anesthesia, being the first to describe it scientifically.

Thomas Bartholin came from a family that has become famous for its pioneering scientists, twelve of whom became professors at the University of Copenhagen. Three generations of the Bartholin family made significant contributions to anatomical science and medicine in the 17th and 18th centuries: Thomas Bartholin's father, Caspar Bartholin the Elder (1585–1629), his brother Rasmus Bartholin (1625–1698), and his son Caspar Bartholin the Younger (1655–1738).[1] Thomas Bartholin's son Thomas Bartholin the Younger (1659–1690) became a professor of history at the University of Copenhagen and was later appointed royal antiquarian and secretary to the Royal Archives.[2]

Personal life

Thomas Bartholin was the second of the six sons of Caspar Bartholin the Elder, a physician born in Malmö, Scania and his spouse Anne Fincke. Bartholin the Elder published the first collected anatomical work in 1611. This work was later augmented, illustrated and revised by Thomas Bartholin, becoming the standard reference on anatomy; the son notably added updates on Harvey's theory of blood circulation and on the lymphatic system.

Bartholin visited the Italian botanist Pietro Castelli at Messina in 1644. In 1663 Bartholin bought Hagestedgaard, which burned down in 1670 including his library, with the loss of many manuscripts. King Christian V of Denmark appointed Bartholin as his physician with a substantial salary and freed the farm from taxation as recompense for the loss. In 1680 Bartholin's health failed, the farm was sold, and he moved back to Copenhagen, where he died. He was buried in Vor Frue Kirke (Church of Our Lady).

The Bartholinsgade, a street in Copenhagen, is named for the family. Nearby is the Bartholin Institute (Bartholin Institutet). One of the buildings of the University of Aarhus is named after him.

Contributions to medical research

In December 1652, Bartholin published the first full description of the human lymphatic system. Jean Pecquet had previously noted the lymphatic system in animals in 1651, and Pecquet's discovery of the thoracic duct and its entry into the veins made him the first person to describe the correct route of the lymphatic fluid into the blood.[3] Shortly after the publication of Pecquet's and Bartholin's findings, a similar discovery of the human lymphatic system was published by Olof Rudbeck in 1653, although Rudbeck had presented his findings at the court of Queen Christina of Sweden in April–May 1652, before Bartholin, but delayed in writing about it until 1653 (after Bartholin). As a result, an intense priority dispute ensued.[4] Niels Stensen or Steno became his most famous pupil.

Thomas' publication De nivis usu medico observationes variae Chapter XXII, contains the first known mention of refrigeration anaesthesia, a technique whose invention Thomas Bartholin credits to the Italian Marco Aurelio Severino of Naples.[5] According to Bartholin, Severino was the first to present the use of freezing mixtures of snow and ice (1646), and Thomas Bartholin initially learnt about the technique from him during a visit to Naples.

Bartholin–Patau syndrome, first described by Thomas Bartholin, is a congenital syndrome of multiple abnormalities produced by trisomy 13.

Caspar Bartholin the Elder, Thomas Bartholin's father; his brother Rasmus Bartholin; and his son Caspar Bartholin the Younger (who first described "Bartholin's glands"), all contributed to the practice of modern medicine through their discoveries of important anatomical structures and phenomena.[1] Bartholin the Elder started his tenure as professor at Copenhagen University in 1613, and over the next 125 years, the scientific accomplishments of the Bartholins while serving on the medical faculty of the University of Copenhagen won international acclaim and contributed to the reputation of the institution.

Selected works

Antiquitatum veteris puerperii synopsis, 1676


  1. 1 2 Hill, Robert V. (2007) "A Glimpse of Our Past – The contributions of the Bartholin family to the study and practice of clinical anatomy". Clinical Anatomy, Volume 20, Issue 2 (March 2007), pp. 113 – 115. Retrieved 22 February 2007.
  2. Jónsson, Már (2012). Arnas Magnæus Philologus (1663–1730). [Odense]: University Press of Southern Denmark. pp. 48–49.
  3. Detmar, Michael and Mihaela Skobe (2000). "Structure, Function, and Molecular Control of the Skin Lymphatic System". Journal of Investigative Dermatology Symposium Proceedings (2000) 5, 14–19. Retrieved 22 February 2007.
  4. Eriksson, G. (2004). Svensk medicinhistorisk tidskrift, 2004;8(1):39-44. In Swedish. English abstract at Olaus Rudbeck as scientist and professor of medicine, U.S. National Library of Medicine. Retrieved 22 February 2007.
  5. De nivis, p. 132, p. 132, at Google Books : " nix affricata induit stuporem. Id me docuit Marcus Aurelius Severinus in Gymnasio Neapolitano ".
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