Medical Terminology Daily (MTD) is a blog sponsored by Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc. as a service to the medical community. We post anatomical, medical or surgical terms, their meaning and usage, as well as biographical notes on anatomists, surgeons, and researchers through the ages. Be warned that some of the images used depict human anatomical specimens.

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A Moment in History


William J. Larsen, PhD

An American scientist, Dr. Larsen was a gifted scientist, consistently producing research at the forefront of cell, developmental, and reproductive biology. Early in his career he published a landmark paper that conclusively established mitochondrial fission as the mechanism of mitochondrial biogenesis. He went on to become the first to demonstrate the endocytosis of gap junctions. Moreover, his work on the hormonal regulation of gap junction formation and growth culminated in an authoritative review article in Tissue and Cell, “Structural Diversity of Gap Junctions (1988)”, which became a citation classic.

Throughout his 25 year teaching career, his sixty-seven peer reviewed publications—not to mention numerous invited reviews, abstracts, and book chapters—covered a wide range of research areas including adrenal cortical tumor cells, human ovarian carcinomas, preterm labor, cumulus expansion, oocyte maturation, ovulation, folliculogenesis, and in-vitro fertilization.

In addition to his many contributions to basic research, Dr. Larsen loved to teach and was much appreciated by his students. His exceptional ability was reflected in the four teaching awards he received as a professor at the University of Cincinnati.

Notably, he was the author of Human Embryology, a textbook for medical students that was the first to incorporate modern experimental research into a subject that had traditionally been taught in a strictly descriptive style. On its initial publication in 1998 it was hailed as, “a magnificent book…” by the European Medical Journal. With the release of the fourth edition in 2008, the book was renamed “Larsen’s Human Embryology” in recognition of Dr. Larsen's place as the originator of this revolutionary text. This book is today in it's 6th Edition.

His stellar scientific career would be enough for most people, but Dr. Larsen pursued his numerous and varied interests with such extraordinary passion, energy, and skill that he seemed to have more hours in a day than the ordinary person. He was fascinated with the American Southwest and studied and collected traditional arts and crafts of the Hopi, Zuni, and Navajo peoples. He was a woodworker who built three harpsichords and a fortepiano for his wife, and, with his two children, over 100 pieces of gallery-quality furniture. In addition, he loved to regale his friends, colleagues, and students with jokes and stories, and to share his love for gourmet cooking.

The William J. Larsen Distinguished Lecture Series

An annual lecture series was created for the Department of Cancer & Cell Biology at the University of Cincinnati to honor Dr. Larsen's research which was at the forefront of cell developmental and reproductive biology. This series recognizes forward-thinking research scientists in the field of developmental biology and asks that they share their research and findings with students and faculty of the University of Cincinnati, College of Medicine.

Personal note: I had the opportunity to meet and attend Dr. Larsen’s embryology lectures as he and I worked in the Anatomy, Embryology, and Histology program at the University of Cincinnati Medical College. Unfortunately, I never had the opportunity to have Dr. Larsen sign my personal copy of his book. He is sorely missed, Dr. Miranda


1. "The William J. Larsen Distinguished Lecture Series" University of Cincinnati, College of Medicine.
3. 2022 Larsen Lecture Series brochure (download here)
4. Dr. Larsen's family personal communications

 "Clinical Anatomy Associates, Inc., and the contributors of "Medical Terminology Daily" wish to thank all individuals who donate their bodies and tissues for the advancement of education and research”.

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Ephraim McDowell

This article is part of the series "A Moment in History" where we honor those who have contributed to the growth of medical knowledge in the areas of anatomy, medicine, surgery, and medical research.To search all the articles in this series, click here.

Ephraim McDowell (1771- 1830). American surgeon, Ephraim McDowell was born in 1771 in the Augusta County of Virginia. His family moved to the “frontier”, which at that time was Kentucky, where his father was a judge. McDowell studied in Kentucky and returned to Virginia to serve as an apprentice to Dr. Alexander Humphreys. Following Dr. Humphrey’s advice McDowell went to Edinburgh to finish his formal medical training, which he did not finish, taking chemistry, anatomy, and then a private medical course with Dr. John Bell.

Returning to America, he settled in the Ohio River Valley, and had a successful practice as a frontier surgeon in the city of Danville, Kentucky.  This was before the advent of anesthesia and antisepsis.

On Christmas Day 1809, Dr. McDowell  performed the first recorded ovariotomy to drain a massive ovarian cyst from Mrs. Mary Jane Crawford, who had to ride a horse for sixty miles to get to Dr. McDowell’s office where he performed the ovariotomy without anesthesia. Mrs. Crawford had been diagnosed as “pregnant” by two other physicians. Dr. McDowell’s hand-written report states that he performed a nine-inch abdominal incision, the operation lasted about twenty five minutes, and they removed “fifteen pounds of a dirty gelatinous substance” and “extracted the sac, which weighed seven and a half pounds”. 

Ephraim McDowell
Original image courtesy of National Library of Medicine.

Mrs. Crawford survived the operation, was ambulatory in five days, and lived for 33 additional years, until she was 78 years old. Research has been made as to the reason for the survival at a time when the norm for an operation that penetrated the peritoneal cavity was death. Othersen (2004) states that his research indicated that Dr. McDowell was “meticulous, neat and scrupulously clean”.

Because of the times, and because Dr. McDowell was not into writing, the achievement was not known for many years, until 1817. Dr. McDowell later performed a lithotomy on James Polk, who would eventually become president of the United States. In 1825, his achievements were recognized and he received an honorary MD degree by the University of Maryland.

Dr. McDowell’s house in Danville, KY is today a museum, and his name is remembered by the “Ephraim McDowell Health System” a group of integrated healthcare based in the same city. For more information on Mary Jane Crawford, click here.

PERSONAL NOTE: On February 19, 2017 I was able to go visit this place. Click here for a series of articles and pictures of this visit. Dr. Miranda

1. “Ephraim McDowell (1771-1830) Kentucky Surgeon” JAMA. 1963;186 (9):861-862
2. “Ephraim McDowell: The Qualities of a Good Surgeon” Othersen, HB Ann Surg. 2004; 239(5): 648–650
3. “Ephraim McDowell (1771-1830): pioneer of ovariotomy” Tan,SY & Wong, C. Singapore Med J 2005; 46(1) : 4
4. “Ephraim McDowell, the First Ovariotomy, and the Birth of Abdominal Surgery” Horn, L and Johnson, DH. J Clin Onco 2010: 28; 7 1262-1268
5. "Surgeon of the wilderness: Ephraim McDowell" Haggard, WD. Presidential Address, ACS 1933. FACS archives 1934, 58: 415-4198

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