Brown-Séquard, Father of Endocrinology

Lindsay Edouard


Famous for the eponymous syndrome of hemisection of the spinal cord, Brown-Séquard was born in Mauritius and, in this 125th anniversary year of his death in Paris in 1894, it is apt to review his achievements as the undisputed father of endocrinology. He abandoned a lucrative private practice in London for an international academic career emphasising an experimental approach. Pioneering the discipline of endocrinology through self-experimentation, he freely distributed his preparations for male hormonal replacement therapy to promote their evaluation. Whereas their perceived effectiveness was due to a placebo effect, his contribution was central in the development of endocrinology. Brown-Séquard had an enquiring mind and never missed an opportunity to exploit circumstances for pursuing issues whether for observational or interventional purposes. His eccentric personality was associated with bouts of depression, likely with bipolar disorder, and frequent moves: he settled six times in France and four times in America besides undertaking two journeys to Mauritius where the setting was not propitious for carrying out tasks of professional interest. This roving character led to more than 60 transatlantic crossings and about six years at sea. He had royalty as patients, Charles Darwin and Louis Pasteur as close correspondents, and influenced his neighbour Robert Louis Stevenson for the plot of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.


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