Hepatology is a branch of medicine concerned with the study and management of diseases that affect the liver, gallbladder, biliary tree and pancreas. The term hepatology is derived from the Greek word “hepar” that means liver and “logia” that means study.
Hepatology has previously been considered a subspecialty of gastroenterology, but nowadays doctors can specialize in hepatology alone. These doctors are referred to as hepatologists.
Liver damage has been known to mankind since ancient times. In fact, evidence from the autopsies that were performed on Egyptian mummies has shown liver damage caused by a widespread parasitic infection known of as Bilharziasis. The Greek mythological story “Prometheus” also suggests that the Greeks may have been aware of the liver’s ability to duplicate.
Hippocrates also described liver abscess in 400 B.C. and according to the Roman anatomist Galen, the liver was considered to be the most important organ in the body. Galen also identified the liver’s relationship with the gallbladder and the spleen. In around 100 CE, Areteus of cappadoca described jaundice and its symptoms and in medieval times Avicenna observed the significance of urine in the diagnosis of liver disease.
In 1770, the bleeding that occurs due to the presence of esophageal varices caused by portal hypertension in cirrhosis patients was noted by Antoine Portal, a French anatomist. In 1844, Gabriel Valentin demonstrated how pancreatic enzymes are responsible for breaking down food during digestion. This was followed by the discovery of the pancreatic juice tyrosine by Justus Von Leibig in 1846.
The first liver transplantation was developed and performed in dog experimental models in 1958 by Francis Moore. The first human liver transplant followed in 1963 and was performed by Dr. Thomas E. Starzl on a 3-year-old male who had biliary atresia. In 1966, Baruch S. Blumberg discovered the hepatitis B virus and went on to develop the first hepatitis B vaccine in 1969. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1976.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc