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Sir Astley Cooper (1768-1841)

Astley Cooper was born the son of a Norfolk clergyman. His uncle was William Cooper, appointed as a staff surgeon at St Thomas' and Guy's Hospital and it was there that he started his medical studies. He was also taught by John Hunter and in the winter of 1787 he also visited the anatomy department at the University of Astley Cooper Edinburgh. In 1789 he was appointed demonstrator in anatomy at St Thomas' and in 1783 he gave lectures in anatomy for the Company of Surgeons. In 1800 he took over his uncles post at Guy's Hospital where he remained for

He has been regarded by many as a leading surgeon of his day making numerous academic contributions to surgery and anatomy. In 1800 he presented to the Royal Society of Medicine cases of eustachian dysfunction and the use of myringotomy in the treatment of this condition. For this work he was awarded the Copley Medal. In both 1804 and 1807 he published 'The anatomy and surgical treatment of inguinal and congenital hernias' regarded by many at the time as a seminal work in the field. In it he first describes the anatomy of the cremasteric fascia, the pectineal ligament and the transversalis fascia.

Probably his greatest contribution to surgery has innovative work in the field of vascular surgery. Much of his research was into the pathophysiology of the cerebral circulation. He demonstrated that ligation of both carotid arteries in the dog failed to cause significant pathological effects due to he dominance of the vertebral arteries in this species. As a result of these studies he postulated that it should be possible to treat vascular aneurysmal disease by ligation of the vessel proximal to the lesion. In 1805 he ligated the common carotid artery but unfortunately the patient died 48 hours later. In 1808 he ligated the external iliac artery for a femoral aneurysm and in 1817 he ligated the aorta for an iliac aneurysm. The specimen from this operation remains to date in the museum at St Thomas' Hospital. As a result of his contribution to vascular surgery the approach to the external iliac artery is named after him.

In 1820 he excised and infected sebaceous cyst from the scalp of King George IV. He was appointed sergeant surgeon to George IV, William IV and Queen Victoria. He was elected President of the Royal College of Surgeons on two occasions (1827 &1836).He made several other valuable contributions to the development of surgery detailed in the following books:

  • Treatise on dislocations and fractures of the joints (1822)
  • Lectures in the principals and practices of surgery (1824-1827)
  • Illustrations of the disease of the breast (1829)
  • Anatomy of the thymus gland (1832)

The suspensory ligaments of the breast are named after him.

"in collecting the evidence upon any medical subject there are but three sources from which we can hope to obtain it: that is from living subjects , from examination of the dead and from experiments upon living animals."

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