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Father of physiology

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Claude Bernard is often referred to as the father of modern experimental physiology. He was born 200 years ago, on 13 July 1813, in France. He left college to work in a druggist’s shop, and devoted his spare time to writing vaudeville comedies.

At 21 Bernard left for Paris with hopes of forging a career in the arts. However, his work was dismissed by a leading theatre critic, who advised him to give up writing and take up medicine, which he eventually did, graduating in 1843. Two years later, financial difficulties forced him into an arranged marriage to the daughter of a wealthy physician. He used her dowry to fund his research and avoid the tedium of rural practice. At the time, research physiology was considered an inferior field, and his first laboratory was a cellar.

Bernard’s marriage was a disaster. His wife resented his lowly paid, low prestige work and was disgusted with the vivisection by which his discoveries were made. When their marriage broke up in 1869, she became a campaigning anti-vivisectionist.

Bernard’s most famous early work was in describing the process of glycogenesis in the liver, but he also did pioneering work involving the digestive system, particularly the pancreas, as well as working out how the vasomotor nerves function.

But his greatest achievement was his major breakthrough in the understanding of what he called the milieu interieur, or internal environment, which he recognised must be fixed for cells and tissues, irrespective of external conditions. It would later be given the name “homeostasis”.

On his death in 1878, Bernard was the first scientist in France to be accorded a public funeral. From the height of his career until well after his death, he was so famous that he was identified in the minds of the public as the stereotypical scientist, rather like Albert Einstein in the 20th century.

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From: Beyond pharmacy blog

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