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Magendie, François

medicine experimental compounds french

[mazhãdee] (1783–1855) French physiologist: pioneer of experimental pharmacology.

Magendie graduated in medicine in Paris in 1808, and afterwards practised and taught medicine there. In 1809 he described his experiments on plant poisons, using animals to find the precise physiological effect and then testing out the compounds on himself. In this way he introduced into medicine a range of the compounds from plants now known as alkaloids, which contain one or more nitrogen atoms within ring structures; many have striking pharmacological properties and Magendie showed some of the medicinal uses of strychnine (from the Indian vomit-nut), morphine and codeine (from opium) and quinine (from cinchona bark). Magendie’s studies were remarkably wide-ranging. He showed in 1816 that protein is essential in the diet, and that not all kinds of protein will suffice. He studied emetic action; the absorption of drugs; olfaction; and the white blood cells. In 1822 he showed that spinal nerves have separate paths controlling movement and sensation, confirming and extending work. His enthusiasm for vivisection sacrificed hundreds of animals, mainly dogs, which was much disapproved in England (but not in France); he pursued data, avoided theory and did much to found the French school of experimental physiology.

He also made some major errors: he claimed that cholera and yellow fever were not contagious, and he was against anaesthesia (induced by ether) in surgery.

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