Joseph Lister, Glasgow and the Birth of Antiseptic Surgery

2017 marks 150 years since Joseph Lister published his ground-breaking article “Antiseptic Principle of the Practice of Surgery” in the medical journal, The Lancet. To mark this occasion our annual Goodall Symposium will be celebrating Joseph Lister and his outstanding contribution to antiseptic surgery.

There is, arguably, no more appropriate place to celebrate the beginnings of antiseptic surgery than in Glasgow as it was in Glasgow Royal Infirmary that Lister first started using carbolic as an antiseptic, heralding the beginnings of a surgical revolution.

Lister ward at Glasgow Royal Infirmary c.1900

Lister ward at Glasgow Royal Infirmary c.1900

Based on Louis Pasteur’s research into fermentation, Lister began covering wounds in dressings containing carbolic acid which was known to prevent putrefaction in substances of animal origin. His first attempt was a failure but with his second patient, an eleven year old boy, Lister succeeded. As part of the patients treatment, pure carbolic acid on calico was applied to all areas of the wound – the wound healed; there was no infection, no gangrene and so amputation was avoided.

Lister continued to expand his use of carbolic acid using a steam spray (pictured below) to spray the air in his operating theatre. He was particularly driven by his intense revulsion towards the conditions of the surgical rooms and wards at Glasgow Royal Infirmary and devoted his full attention to reducing cross infection. Poor sanitation in 19th century hospitals meant patients were at serious risk of contracting diseases such as pyaemia, gangrene and tetanus. Lister was constantly battling with the managers of the Glasgow Royal Infirmary over the poor conditions of the wards and in 1870 wrote a letter to the Lancet entitled On the effects of the antiseptic treatment upon the salubrity of a surgical hospital, where he described the wards at the Royal as “some of the most unhealthy in the Kingdom”. The wards had been built over cholera burial pits and were close to the pauper burial pits at Glasgow cathedral. Lister also stated that the wards had not been properly cleaned for three years and were dreadfully overcrowded.

A Lister carbolic spray c.1870

A Lister carbolic spray c.1870

Lister’s success with antiseptic procedures revolutionised the treatment of disease and injuries.

Join us to celebrate 150 years of safer surgery!

Lister continues to be an inspiration to many of today’s doctors and surgeons and we are delighted to welcome Mr Pankaj Chandak, Specialist Registrar in Transplant Surgery at Guy’s, St Thomas’ and Great Ormond Street Hospitals and Research Fellow at Kings College London, to deliver the Goodall Lecture. Mr Chandak is passionate about Lister’s achievements and his legacy in surgical safety, linking the innovations of the 1860s with today’s developments in 3-D printing, robotics and perfusion machines. You can see more of Mr Chandak here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JKUIvt9DI_Q

Setting the context of Lister’s 1867 article is Mr David Hamilton, transplant surgeon, medical historian, and author of the classic text The Healers: a History of Medicine in Scotland.

Our Goodall Symposium takes place on the 15th June 2017.
Time: 7pm (refreshments from 6:30pm)
Price: Free
To book contact library@rcpsg.ac.uk or call 0141 221 6072.

Our Goodall Symposium is part of the Glasgow Science Festival 2017.

Flyer advertising the Goodal Symposium

Events: January – June 2017

Our programme of events for the first half of 2017 is now available. We have some really exciting events coming up this year including our annual Goodall Symposium which will celebrate a very special medical milestone – the 150th annivesary of the publication of Joseph Lister’s ground-breaking article on antiseptic surgery. There’ll also be the chance to learn more about our digitisation project “Uncovering our Medical Instruments”, and our beautiful College Hall will house a unique pop-up art installation as part of Festival of Museums. Download our programme (7MB) to find out more.

Events programme January - June 2017

Events programme January – June 2017.

The image of catgut ligature used on the front of our events programme is a nod to our Goodall Lecture, Safer Surgery – the Lasting Legacy of Joseph Lister in June 2017. In addition to samples of catgut ligatures in our museum collection, our archives contain correspondence between Joseph Lister and William Macewen, on the preparation and use of catgut. Both had articles in the British Medical Journal of 1881 (i, 150, 185) detailing the development of this material as a key component of antiseptic surgery.

Seeing the Invisible: Microscope Collection

Latest blog post from our digitisation intern, Kirsty Early.

Today, there are a variety of methods that enable us to visualize objects of microscopic proportions, from electron microscopes to light microscopes. However, the physical mechanisms of magnification were once a mystery to the human race.

Thousands of years ago, it was understood that water affected the view of an object. This was due to the manner in which water interacted with light, a concept known as refraction. Years later, philosopher Robert Bacon described the magnifying properties of lenses [1]. His major work Opus Majus was a milestone in the field of optics, with the first optical microscope being developed in the 16th century.

Within the College’s museum collection are several types of microscopes from the 18th to 20th centuries. Designs vary, which reflects the progression and improvement of microscopic technology. The Wilson-Type Microscope was designed by James Wilson in 1702, not as replacement for other microscopes, but simply as an alternative magnification tool [2].

Wilson-type microscope

Wilson-type microscope

Samples to be examined were placed onto a slide containing lenses of different magnification strengths. The position of the eyepiece could then be manipulated by a screw-mechanism, allowing the viewer to see different components of the target object more clearly.

Wilson-type microscope

Wilson-type microscope

Also within the collection is a Culpeper-style microscope (1725), whose design is not dissimilar to a Galileo microscope. Edmund Culpeper was an English instrument maker in the late 17th century. Although having made simple microscopes before, his personal design included a compound microscope with a tripod stand [3]. The tool was so popular that it continued to be manufactured for the next century [4].

Culpepper-type microscope

Culpepper-type microscope

The College has many resources on the life and works of Lord Lister, the pioneer of antiseptic surgery, but it also contains an example of his father’s work. Pictured below is an achromatic microscope manufactured by Andrew Pritchard, an optician and instrument maker of the mid-1800s. Joseph Jackson Lister, Lord Lister’s father, was a wine merchant with an interest in the study of optics [4]. His creation of a more accurate achromatic lens allowed for higher resolution viewing, and earned himself a fellowship in the Royal Society. Achromatic lenses focus light of different wavelengths in the same plane, hence producing a sharper microscopic image. This development in microscopic technology was truly revolutionary [5].

achromatic microscope manufactured by Andrew Pritchard

Achromatic microscope manufactured by Andrew Pritchard

The final example of microscope within the College collection is a monocular microscope from the 1900s.This microscope is most similar in design to those seen in laboratories today, although many today will be binocular. It contains a stand onto which a microscopic slide is mounted, kept in place by two pegs on either side. The light mechanism from the bottom is directed through the lens by a mirror, which reflects the light of its surroundings. Unlike the other microscopes, this model contains a simple switch mechanism that allows the magnification to be altered between 2/3” and 1/6 “.

monocular microscope

Monocular microscope c1900

Before the invention of the microscope, the only observations of the body were those visible to the human eye. However, under the microscope a whole new world was discovered.

References
1. Bacon, R., 1267. Opus Majus.
2. Wilson, J., 1702. The description and manner of using a late-invented set of small pocket microscopes, made by James Wilson; which with great ease are apply’d in viewing opake, transparent and liquid objects: as the farina of the flowers of plants etc. The circulation of blood in living creatures etc. The animalcula in semine, etc. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 23, pp. 1241-1247.
3. 3. Clay, R.S., and Court, T.H., 1925. The development of the culpepper microscope. Journal of the Royal Microscopal Society, 45(2), pp. 167-173.
4. Allen, E., and Turk, J.L., 1982. Microscopes in the Hunterian Museum. Annals of the Royal College of Surgeons of England, 64(6), pp. 414-418.
5. Bracegirdle, B., 1977. J.J. Lister and the establishment of histology. Medical History, 21(2), pp. 187-191.

Festival of Museums 2016 – Glasgow’s Marvellous Medicine

We’re really looking forward to taking part in Festival of Museums again and this year we’ll be trying something a little bit different! We’ll be transforming our beautiful College Hall into a pop-up museum showcasing Glasgow’s amazing contributions to the world of medicine (antiseptic surgery, brain tumour operations, x-ray units and so much more all have connections to our city).

Ink drawing of College founder Peter Lowe

Scottish surgeon, Peter Lowe – Founder of our College in 1599 and author of the first general surgical text to be written in English.

There’ll be lots of interesting items on display including an apothecary’s cabinet filled with potions, some amazing rare books and some very gruesome looking surgical instruments. There’ll also be the chance to meet some famous faces from Glasgow’s medical past including Joseph Lister, pioneer of antiseptic surgery, Scottish surgeon and founder of our College in 1599, Maister Peter Lowe, nurse Rebecca Strong and even King James VI!

Lots of fun for all the family!

Saturday, 14th May 2016. Open 10am-4pm

For more information on all the other amazing events taking places as part of Festival of Museums 2016 please visit www.festivalofmuseums.com.