1821-1875: The Origins
of the teaching of Physiology can be traced back to the establishment
College in 1821, and the inauguration of the Medical Institution
(1823) by four physicians of the then newly established Montreal General
Hospital. These four physicians decided upon an organized course of
lectures for student residents at the Hospital and held the title of
lecturer in Materia Medica and Physiology.
Institution merged with McGill College in 1829 and subsequently gained
legal standing and academic prestige. During the next 30 years, a number
of distinguished medical men occupied the position of lecturer in Physiology
and Materia Medica, including Drs. Stephen Sewell (1843), Robert MacDonel
(1845), William Fraser (1849) and Joseph Morley Drake (1872). During
Drakes tenure, the University opened the first medical building
on campus and the 1872 graduating class included the then 22 year old
campus with Arts, Observatory, Presbyterian College,
and Old Medical Building (1873-80)
-- Notman Archives (McCord Museum)
William Osler in 1909
(Osler library McGill University)
1876-1919: The Building Blocks
William Osler was asked to take over the course at the Institutes. In
1876, he received the title Professor of Physiology, the youngest
physiologist to hold that rank to this date. Osler was provided with a
physiological laboratory, which he equipped; he spent time reorganizing
and revitalizing the teaching of physiology. A detailed description of
the equipment and a three-page account of that new laboratory appeared
in the Canada Medical and Surgical Journal of 1880.
subsequent years, with the addition of electro-physiological equipment,
students were able to experiment by observing action currents of heart,
muscle and nerves. Research also greatly expanded both in variety and
scope. The chair of the Department, Thomas Mills, delved into topics
ranging from the innervation of the heart, mechanisms of oxalic acid
secretion to aspects of animal intelligence and the physiology of
the first world war, the Department entered a decade of instability and
tragic events. In 1914, George Ralph Mines, a brilliant young promising
physiologist from Cambridge became professor, but was found three months
later dying in his laboratory, with no conclusive explanation.
The Heroic Age
With the First
World War ending, and with Canadian and international contexts renewing
interest in research (note the discovery of insulin at the University
of Toronto), medical research at McGill entered a stimulating period.
As facilities were expanded, the Laboratory of Physiology and Experimental
Medicine (the Departments new official title) embarked on its
first golden age that would encompass 30 years. The joint work of the
new chairman John Tait and a young otolaryngologist, W. J. McNally,
was most productive.
Tait and McNally
papers on the frogs vestibular apparatus and its influence on
posture became classics in the field. McNally subsequently went on to
devote himself mainly to clinical work and established in 1961 the Institute
of Otolaryngology of the Royal Victoria Hospital and McGill University
with its still existing 3 divisions, the Clinical division, the Speech
and Hearing Division, and the Research Division.
the action of the respiratory pump
Boris Babkin, an exile from Russia and one-time collaborator of Ivan Pavlov
had joined the Department. He was a respected authority on the digestive
glands; a group of graduate students, among them Margaret E. MacKay,
the Departments first female Ph.D. graduate, joined him. Babkins
research branched out into entirely new areas: humoral transmission
in the secretory innervation of the salivary glands (evidence for chemical
transmission in mammals), experimental study of auditory conditioned
of the Department at that time would include the properties of blood
and its constituents, the functional properties of heart muscle, the
secretory activity of salivary glands, some aspects of immunity, humoral
and hormonal mechanisms of the digestive system, mechanisms of conditioning,
the functioning of special senses, and even certain aspects of psychiatry.
period, technological developments and innovations were emerging from
the Departments own machine shop that turned out many rough sketches
into working prototypes with the help of enterprising McGill scientists
and clinicians, including the surgeon Norman Bethune.
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|To be noted
in the early 1940s, the arrival of a refugee engineer and biophysicist
from Yugoslavia, Paul Sekelj who received a joint appointment in Physiology
and in the Biophysics Department at the Montreal Childrens Hospital.
He developed the first clinically useful whole-blood oximeter, a novel
type of automatic instantaneous heart rate monitor, and many other instrumentation
for taking a tracing of the radial pulse
Physiology, Cathcart, Paton and Pembrey, 2nd ed. 1925
(Instruments used in laboratories circa 1920)
The Duboscq colorimeter