Endocrinology History

The field of endocrinology began to be studied late in the 19th century, when the concept of chemical messengers that exerted systemic effects throughout the entire body was initially introduced.

1889: Self-Administration of Testes Extracts

It is generally accepted that this study owes its beginning in 1889 to Brown-Séquard. As a professor at the College de France, he reported that self-administration of animal testes extracts led to enhancements in his physical strength, intellectual capacity and sexual potency. His claim was widely publicized, being highly controversial. These findings initiated further research in the field of endocrinology.

1891: Thyroid Extract to Treat Myxedema

Two years later, Murray used thyroid extract to successfully treat a woman with myxedema.

1894: Description of Epinephrine

In 1894, Oliver and Schaefer described the presence of epinephrine in extracts from the adrenal medulla.

1903: Discovery of Secretin Hormone

Nayliss and Starling first discovered the hormone secretin in 1903. They were also the first to use the term ‘hormones’ to indicate all chemical messengers within the body.

1904: Leydig Cells in Male Phenotypic Differentiation

In 1904, Bouin and Ancel reasoned that the Leydig cells had a role to play in male phenotype development.

1909: Parathyroid Gland and Calcium Metabolism

Five years later, MacCallum and Voetlin suggested a link between calcium metabolism and the parathyroid glands.

1913-1922: Diabetes insipidus and Insulin Discovered

In 1913, Farmi and Von den Velden treated diabetes insipidus for the first time with posterior pituitary extracts. Several years later in 1922, Banting and Best discovered insulin.

At this time, there were few effective drugs to control endocrine disorders. The discovery of insulin revolutionized the research and treatments in the field of endocrinology.

Overview of Early Historical Timeline

The following is a brief overview of the milestones marking the early history of endocrinology:

  • 1889: Brown-Séquard self-administers testes extracts
  • 1891: Murray uses thyroid extract to treat myxedema
  • 1894: Epinephrine described by Oliver and Schaefer
  • 1903: Secretin discovered by Bayliss and Starling
  • 1904: Role of Leydig cells in male phenotypic differentiation deduced by Buin and Ancel
  • 1909: Link between parathyroid gland and calcium metabolism found by MacCallum and Voetlin
  • 1913: Diabetes insipidus treated with posterior pituitary extracts by Farmi and von den Velden
  • 1921: Growth hormone described by Evans and Long
  • 1922: Insulin discovered by Banting and Best

The Twentieth Century and Beyond

Throughout the twentieth century, the research and practice of endocrinology grew rapidly. Endocrine societies were formed, in addition to journals focused on the subject of endocrinology. During this period, there was a series of major changes in the understanding and technical terms used in endocrinology, as more was discovered about the body systems.

Modern day endocrinology consultation - Image Copyright: Image Point Fr / Shutterstock
Modern day endocrinology consultation - Image Copyright: Image Point Fr / Shutterstock

Today, we have a much enlarged understanding of the functioning and importance of the endocrine system, and the ways in which chronic endocrine disorders, such as diabetes, can be managed. However, there remains a pressing need for further research in this area, particularly to reduce the need for chronic treatments.

There is a great need to discover how endocrine functioning can be altered as necessary in order to provide a cure for endocrine disease, rather than just manage the symptoms in these patients.


Further Reading

Last Updated: Aug 23, 2018



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